by Chris Pickup

The huge growth in population in the Caledonia area has upset the balance between wards and it’s only going to get worse.

In the seventeen years since Haldimand County was  created in 2001, ward 3 is reported to have grown by 49% and ward 5 has decreased by 34%, although councillor Rob Shirton has disputed the latter figure.

The average population per ward was 7,500 as per 2015 population estimates. Ward 1 – 6,944, ward 2 – 6,186, ward 3 – 11,297, ward 4 – 8,615, ward 5 – 4 ,962, ward 6 – 7,400.

A county report authored in 2016 recognized that there are inequities and inconsistencies with the current ward boundaries. Legislation requires a public process for amending the wards, with such action to be completed via by-law approval in the year before a municipal election. Such timing did not align with the Planning Division’s next update of the County’s growth strategy, which could have a significant impact on future population projections and urban settlement areas.

A consultant’s study in 2014 noted that Haldimand County’s population was forecast to increase annually by approximately 1.1%, between 2011 and 2041, to a forecast population of 64,000. The growth allocations were directly related to the County’s proximity to Hamilton and the southwest Greater Toronto Area, and more than half of the growth was  allocated to Caledonia.

Steady population growth was forecast for Cayuga and Hagersville, but Dunnville, Jarvis and Townsend will likely see low to moderate growth over the next 25 years. The study also noted that future housing is expected to continue to shift from rural to urban areas.

Council then essentially had three practical options.

Option 1: Leave the ward boundary review until after the 2018 municipal election and undertake the background work in conjunction with the Growth Strategy, potentially realizing some economies of scale from conducting the work at the same time. Any changes to the ward boundaries resulting from the completion of the Growth Strategy would be enacted through in time for the 2022 municipal election;

Option 2: Add another elected councillor position for Ward 3 to better balance the representation (this could be viewed as an interim measure);

Option 3: Undertake a ward boundary review immediately, with Council to consider the results of such study prior to October 2017. External consulting services would be required to analyze the options and ensure consistency with the five guiding principles outlined below.

There are five guiding principles generally used in Ontario municipalities when determining ward boundaries, which are based on the Carter Case – a 1991 case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada. The five principles are:

1. Representation by Population – based on the premise that each person should get one vote and all votes count equally. Thus, each elected official should generally represent the same number of constituents.

2. Protection of Communities of Interest – defined as settlement patterns, traditional neighbourhoods and community groupings (social, historical, economic, religious and political diversities). The application of this principle means that communities of interest should not be divided by a ward.

3. Consideration of Present and Future Population Trends – ward structure should accommodate anticipated changes in size and location of population.

4. Consideration of Natural and Physical Boundaries – attributes such as rivers, valleys, highways, etc. should be taken into account when designing ward boundaries to reflect communities of interest.

5. Effective Representation – includes basic premise of voter parity, but balances it with all the other criteria.

Staff recommended Option #1 given the natural alignment with the Growth Strategy work being undertaken by Planning staff in the next couple of years.

The subject was raised in a December Dunnville town hall meeting, with two options that could be considered: add a councillor to ward 3, or change the ward boundaries to equal out the ward representation.

Dunnville councillor Bernie Corbett favoured a realignment of the ward boundaries to equal out the representation and retain a seven member council. No other councillors spoke at the meeting.