Councillors efforts to derail ward realignments undermines democracy in Toronto
Councillors Justin Di Ciano and Giorgio Mammoliti are fighting against voter equity for thousands of Torontonians.
By EDWARD KEENAN - Columnist The Star.com
July 19, 2017
It is one of our most basic democratic principles — and a relatively uncontroversial one, I thought — that every vote should count equally.
But apparently not everyone agrees. City councillors Justin Di Ciano and Giorgio Mammoliti are currently engaged in a fight to overturn a democratic decision that was meant to ensure voting equality. They want the Ontario Municipal Board to overrule city council and preserve a system that gives voters in some areas twice as much say in city council decisions as voters in other areas. It’s ridiculous, as is their rhetoric about it.
In Canadian representative democracy, like other places, the principle of voter equality is carried out in practice through a representation-by-population method of selecting our legislative bodies such as Parliament and city council. A 2011 report from U of T’s Mowatt Centre went so far as to say “Representation by population was one of the principal forces behind the creation of Canada and is a key pillar of democracy.”
The growth and change of the population and various areas over time makes exact equal representation hard to achieve, but the goal would be to try to have ward or riding boundaries that ensure a roughly equal number of constituents served by each elected representative.
Toronto’s growth and change has been hyperactive in the past couple of decades, and as a result our wards have become staggeringly disproportionate. In 2014, the most populous ward (27, Toronto-Centre Rosedale) had more than twice as many residents as the least populous (Ward 18, Davenport). This means the councillor for Ward 27 has to represent twice as many people as the one in Ward 18 — with twice the burden on her time, twice the demands on her attention. Perhaps more distressingly, it means that when city council comes to vote on a big issue the residents of Ward 18 get twice as much say in the matter as those in Ward 27. Ninety-five thousand downtown residents get one vote at council on the issue, while 45,000 west-end residents also get one vote.
This is transparently unjust.
According to a city report, a population variation by ward or riding of 10 per cent from the average population might be considered acceptable in a democracy — you can’t get exact, so plus or minus 10 points may be close enough. As it stood at the end of the last election, six of our 44 wards (three of them representing the entire downtown core) have populations more than 20 per cent higher than the average. There are six wards with populations at least 20 per cent lower than average. Only 19 wards — less than half of them — were within that acceptable 10 per cent of the average population range.
The city’s representation, in other words, has grown grossly disproportionate.
City council recognized this. It commissioned a ward boundary review to study the issue over a couple of years, consider options, hold public hearings and surveys on the options, and present them to city council. City council voted on a more equal system that would add three new councillors and redraw some ward boundaries — the effect is to keep the average ward population at about 60,000 residents (as it is now) until at least 2026, and have each ward closer to the average (to re-establish voter equality).
This, according to a statement Mammoliti released, is a problem because, “there will be too much weight given to the downtown part of the city that is already unfairly subsidized by the rest of the city.” This characteristic bit of divisive slime from Mammoliti was handily mopped up by my Metro colleague Matt Elliott in a column this week. I won’t repeat all of his rebuttal, but will reiterate that the three downtown wards in question here, which, by my math, house just under 10 per cent of the city’s population, contribute 25 per cent of the city’s total tax revenue. Those three wards have 6.8 per cent of the seats on city council.
The downtown core, as Elliott writes, is also home to a third of the city’s jobs and produces 51 per cent of its GDP. “Downtown’s Ward 20 contributes in excess of four times more revenue from residential property taxes than Mammoliti’s Ward 7,” Elliott writes.
Downtown is not subsidized by other areas. Downtown is the goose laying golden eggs we get to distribute all around the city.
But even if it were an impoverished area needing subsidies from the rest of the city, it would still deserve equal democratic representation. As a representative fond of reminding us of the legitimately have-not status of much of his own ward, one would think Mammoliti would understand that.
Instead, he and Di Ciano are seeking to have an appointed appeal board overturn the decision — or at least put off hearing the matter long enough to mean the new boundaries can’t be implemented in next year’s election.
There’s something clownish in these officials trying to get provincial appointees to overturn a decision made by the elected body on which they serve. And there’s an extra dose of irony in that the new boundary system was passed by a two-thirds majority of a city council that was elected under the rules Di Ciano and Mammoliti are trying to preserve. You’d think if they respected the legitimacy of the system they are arguing for, they’d respect the decisions it produces.
The democratic vote of city council, attempting to preserve and better reflect a basic principle of democratic government. That’s what these guys are trying to torpedo.
Whatever it is they support, it ain’t democracy. Since we get no vote in the matter at all, we can only hope the board sends them packing. And perhaps the voters in the next election may do the same.
Edward Keenan writes on city issues firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow: @thekeenanwire