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Should Vaughan council grow some more? Resident spurs talk of adding 6th ward councillor

City to add additional regional councillor next year
May 12, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

With a “tight” deadline looming, some Vaughan councillors are questioning if the city should consider adding a sixth local councillor.

Irene Ford, an active Vaughan citizen, raised the issue May 5 following a presentation of the preliminary report from the consultant hired to try to solve the population disparity in the city’s five electoral wards ahead of next year’s municipal election.

City council is made up of five local councillors each representing one of five wards plus three regional councillors and a mayor, all of whom are elected at large to represent Vaughan at the Region of York council table.

Currently, there's quite a disparity in some wards in terms of population.

For instance, Ward 2, in the city's southwest, has the smallest population at 54,200 people while Ward 1, in the city's north end, which includes Maple and Kleinburg, has 70,700 people.

That means, Ward 2 Coun. Tony Carella represents and is thus accountable to about 16,500 fewer citizens than Ward 1 Coun. Marilyn Iafrate.

To find a better balance between the populations of each ward, Jack Ammendolia, Robert Williams and Zachary Spicer, from consulting firm Watson & Associates Economists Ltd., put forward three suggestions, including splitting Ward 1 and giving parts of Ward 3 to Wards 1 and 2.

The consultants didn't, however, suggest adding a sixth local councillor, as starting in 2022, the city is going to an additional -- fifth -- regional seat at the York Region council table.

This would create an even number of regional and local councillors.

The current five to four ratio of regional to local councillors allowed local councillors to rescind the city's endorsement of the controversial Highway 413 following public outcry led in part by Ford, who is spokesperson for the Stop the 413 group. But the city's regional councillors reiterated their support at York Region council.

That forced opponents of the highway to “reach out to other municipal regional council members for representation at York Region,” Ford said.

With no analysis of how an additional ward councillor would affect “local representation and decision-making,” Ford said in an interview the city paid money for a study that won’t achieve its goal, which is effective representation.

“Vaughan’s council composition is always compared to Markham, who has five regional council members,” Ford said. “Why do we never compare our local council representation to Markham? Markham has eight local councillors representing 350,000 residents, whereas Vaughan has only five local councillors representing 335,000 residents.”

Carella said Ford raised some “very important issues, which are part of the bigger picture.”

He noted that in Peel, Durham and Halton, regional councillors are elected by their municipal wards not at -large like in York Region.

“This is part of the complication here,” Carella said. “And, in this case, what we're really saying is that we can treat the two offices separately. This is really only about electing city councillors and not about electing regional councillors.”

Regional Coun. Linda Jackson said the consultants’ “marching orders were flawed.”

“We all remember back early last year, there was a real pushback from certain community members to not review a sixth (councillor) because of the costs,” she said.

“Members of council, and everyone, decided not to do that and to send the consultants with five. I think that was flawed.”

With new ward boundaries having to be in place by Dec. 31 in time for next year's municipal elections, Jackson asked if there's an opportunity to look at a proposal that includes the option of adding a sixth ward.

While the legislation doesn’t require public engagement, Ammendolia said, “I think a decision like this, you would probably want vetted through the public again. So, then, that would involve public engagement throughout the summer months. ... It's not impossible, but it's tight.”