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Stouffville changes 'unfair' ward boundaries before 2022 election

The town added an urban ward and dropped a rural ward in its new configuration
April 7, 2021
Simon Martin

The 2022 election will look completely different in Whitchurch-Stouffville.

As part of a ward boundary review, council voted to rejig the wards to better reflect the town's changing population.

Prior to the changes, Whitchurch-Stouffville had three rural wards (1-3) and three urban wards (4-6).

That configuration allowed for massive population discrepancies between wards as urban area of Stouffville ballooned.

According to review conducted by Watson and Associates, the 2020 population for each of the town’s old wards showed as follow: Ward 1, 3,890; Ward 2, 6,070; Ward 3, 3,440; Ward 4, 12,290; Ward 5, 7,740 and Ward 6, 17,440. Ward 6 was nearly six times the population of some rural wards.

“This is certainly long overdue. This had to happen” Ward 5 Coun. Richard Bartley said of the changes.

Under the new ward system adopted by council, there will be two rural wards and four urban wards.

The two rural wards use McCowan Road and Highway 48 as the primary dividing lines. Ward 1 is the west rural ward, which includes Vandorf and Gormley. Ward 2 is the east rural ward and includes Ballantrae and Musselman’s Lake.

The 2020 population is 6,870 for Ward 1 and 7,180 for Ward 2.   

The four urban wards are divided into easy-to-understand boundaries. Ward 3 includes anything east of 10th line with small portion south of 10th Line and North of Bethesda Road.

Ward 4 runs from Highway 48 to Ninth Line and from Bethesda Road to 19th Avenue. Ward 5 runs from Ninth Line to Tenth Line and Bethesda Road to Main Street, and Ward 6 runs from Ninth Line to Tenth Line and Main Street to 19th Avenue.

The population of the wards in 2020 is slightly uneven with Ward 3 at 5,720; Ward 4, 10,930; Ward 5, 7,470; and Ward 6 12,700. Consultant Robert Williams said those numbers will be better balanced by 2030 as the urban population continues to develop.

Williams said the recommendations weren't just about population and that they treated urban and rural areas differently in the review.

Council was happy with the work done on the review.

“It’s been a really good process,” Mayor Iain Lovatt said.

“This has been a great exercise,” Ward 6 Coun. Sue Sherban added. “I do know there has been a large public interest.”

Even some of the harshest critics of the ward boundary review seemed happy with the process.

Ward 1 resident Frank Van Veen had been outspoken about rural representation being lost on Stouffville council even suggesting Whitchurch consider joining Aurora.

“In all honesty, it makes sense. It is representation by population,” he said of the new boundaries. “I really don’t have a lot of complaints. It’s fairer distribution based on the overall population.”

Council approved a budget of $40,000 for the review.

Back during the 2018 election, it was acknowledged the ward system was way out of whack.

“It’s time to change the system for fair representation,” Sherban said at the time.

In 2017, the foremost experts on ward boundaries in Ontario, Williams and Andrew Sancton, called the Stouffville ward arrangement grossly unfair.

“This is highly unusual. I haven’t seen anything this far out of line,” Sancton, a professor at the Western University, said at the time.

Williams, from the University of Waterloo, also conducted the town’s last ward boundary review in 2009. The council of the day did not implement his recommendations. “The ward system is completely outmoded and inappropriate for how the community has changed,” he said in 2017. “It’s simply not fair.”

After being elected mayor in 2018, Lovatt said it was a priority for the town to do a ward boundary review.