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Toronto residents asked to give input on city council size, ward boundaries

If you have an opinion on how many city councillors Toronto should have or where the ward boundaries should be drawn, now’s the time to express it.

Public meetings are planned across the city this month and in January for people to give input on how ward boundaries should be redrawn and how many wards there should be. That input will contribute to council’s decision on the issue in 2016, ahead of the 2018 election.

Torontonians can find the meetings list and give feedback in a survey at drawthelines.ca.

A change to the geography of wards — and a change in the number of wards — is a political issue for councillors.

Beate Bowron is project lead for the consultants who have been hired as an independent body to conduct what’s called the Toronto Ward Boundary Review. She said the group has already spoken to all city councillors and other involved groups.

“All I can say is the opinions vary widely on the subject of whether or not there should be many fewer wards or there should be more wards than there are now,” Bowron said.

Last spring, as mayor, Rob Ford attempted to get council to recommend the city’s 44 councillors be cut in half. The idea was defeated.

Another issue is resolving the disparity between the number of voters in the wards.

“Generally, a voter in one ward has to have an equal right to elect a councillor as a person in another ward,” Bowron said.

“If in one, there are only 44,000 (people) and in another ward there are 88,000 — in the 88,000 ward, their vote is not worth as much as the person in the smaller ward,” Bowron said.

The consultants are also looking at future population trends. The same wards that have more people today are expected to continue to grow, she said.

Finding the ideal number of councillors and the ideal ward size in Toronto is difficult, according to Moore.

“With a council that large—44 councillors without a party system and party discipline—it can make getting things done at City Hall difficult,” Moore said.

If the mayor keeps a large executive in a smaller council, city government could be more effective, he said.

Toronto’s council tends to have parochial problems—where councillors focus on the issues of their wards, or small groups in their wards, at the expense of the city as a whole. That problem could be reduced with larger wards, he said. Having fewer councillors could also make it possible for voters to better know all of them, and expect more of them, he said.

“However, the issue is you lose representation,” he said. “How well a councillor could represent a ward that large remains to be seen.”

There will be a second round of public consultations next year, based on the first round of research and consultation. Then the Ward Boundary Review group will write the final report, which council will vote on.

Whether that ultimately includes one recommendation—which would recommend both the number of wards and their new geography that council will either adopt or refuse—or a selection of options for council to choose between, has not yet been decided, she said.

Asked if politics could get in the way of redrawing the boundaries for fairness, she said, “I can’t really predict what council is going to do.”

To find the public consultation meeting nearest you or complete the online survey, go to drawthelines.ca.

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