Corp Comm Connects

Is the right time to review Vaughan’s electoral wards during the pandemic?

Population disparity between Vaughan’s wards to show in next 3 election cycles
Jan. 19, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

A consulting group noted that Vaughan’s population disparity among its five wards was “reasonable” for the time being; however, it added that the gap will further widen in the upcoming three election cycles.

Citing figures from the 2016 census, Ward 2 so far has the smallest population at 54,200 people while Ward 1 sits at 70,700, leaving a difference of 16,500, according to one of the slides presented by Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. at one of the four virtual open houses held on Vaughan’s border review on Jan. 12.

But the city is expected to grow by approximately 30 per cent between 2016 and 2031, with local and regional estimates ranging from 412,200 to 416,600.

The slides were presented by Jack Ammendolia, Robert Williams and Zachary Spicer from the consulting firm, who are working at “arm's length from council and staff.”

The goal of the review is to create "effective representations," which means that each resident should have comparable access to their elected representative and each councillor should speak on behalf of an equal number of residents.

With the city’s attempt to reconfigure its ward representation in light of this population growth, last year Vaughan announced that it will be gaining an extra seat at York Region council table, meaning it will have five regional councillors starting in 2022.

Kevin, one of the attendees for the Jan. 12 evening digital open house meeting, inquired about the impact of Vaughan having an additional regional councillor and how that would affect the review.

The consultants made it clear that it’s “not something we’re looking at,” as the number of regional councillors has already been “determined and decided” for them.

The mandate is to look at the existing number of wards and find out whether it’s necessary to come up with new ward boundary reconfigurations.

“Our task is to figure out how to elect those five local councillors,” Williams said.

Irene Ford, who described herself as a “concerned” Vaughan citizen, wants the fact that Vaughan is going to have a fifth regional councillor factored into the review, as she doesn’t want the “outcome” to be “challenged,” wasting the city’s resources.

“How this additional regional representation will affect local representation is not part of the review,” Ford said. “My observation is that regional councillors are not as responsive to acute local issues and less accountable to constituents, even though they vote on local issues.”

With regional councillors representing the “larger public interest, (the) addition of another Councillor will push council even further away from representing local communities and wards regardless of the outcome of this review,” Ford added.

Ford doesn’t disagree with the review at all, but also questions the timing since some Vaughan residents, like elsewhere, are scrambling financially or feel mentally exhausted amid this COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Ford said that local residents are already reacting to provincial legislation that directly impacts their city.

There is already Bill 229 with its controversial minister’s zoning orders, which Vaughan’s council rejected; however, Coun. Marilyn Iafrate’s motion for repeal was defeated.

Other topics include “changes to the Conservation Authority Act and the proposed 413 (highway) which will run through Vaughan's municipal boundaries north of Kleinburg/Nashville and end at the 400 (highway).”

Ford also questioned why impending hot issues were taking a back seat, such as follow-ups on Vaughan council declaring a climate emergency in 2019.

“Council has found time to endorse MZO requests, some of which are highly controversial due to the presence of provincially significant wetlands.”

Ammendolia, meanwhile, said, “we didn’t dream of it (the review) in the middle of a pandemic.”