If proponents of ward boundary reform are serious about making changes in time for the next municipal election the window of opportunity is getting shorter. Those hoping the Ontario Municipal Board will exercise its power to force ward boundary changes have to get a ruling by the OMB by the end of this year. For changes to be effective for the 2018 election, the OMB must issue an order before January 1st of, 2018. The first step is to get a petition asking the OMB to change ward boundaries signed by 500 residents. But any application to the OMB cannot be submitted until at least 90 days have passed since the petition was received by the municipality. That means the latest the petition can be received by council is the end of September; but realistically it probably needs to be earlier since the OMB would undoubtedly require time to hear from all parties and to deliberate on a decision.
Anyone who signed the petition can then apply for a ruling by the OMB by paying a $300 fee. The onus is on the petitioners to suggest the changes they want to see. In the Hamilton case, the consultants Watson and Associates provided council with a three option report last fall. One of the options retained the 15 ward system but made substantial changes to several mountain and suburban wards, particularly Wards 6, 7 and 11 on the mountain. It managed to create greater equality in population from the current situation where ward populations vary from a low of 17,000 to a high of over 60,000. Projecting growth to 2026 the option predicted the most populous wards in 10 years would be wards 9,10, and 11—all in Glanbrook-Stoney Creek area of the city where most of the city’s future residential growth will take place. The consultants also offered up a 16 ward model that would have tilted the urban-suburban scales more sharply to the urban side. This option was actually the favorite of the 400-odd people who participated in two rounds of public consultation. What is clear from the study is that the current balance between urban and suburban wards will inevitably come to an end through population shifts. Ward 11 (Glanbrook) is already shifting from rural to urban with the growth of Binbrook—a trend that will only accelerate in the coming decade.
Under pressure from council last October the consultant developed a third option which essentially offered virtually no change from the current system except for some minor tinkering with some ward boundaries. The consultant strongly recommended against the proposal; arguing that it didn’t satisfy any of the guiding principles of the review but that was the one selected by council.