Dysart et al council opted against exploring ward boundary changes this term despite the population disparities between them.
Staff presented a report Feb. 9 on the boundaries in response to council questions at a previous meeting. The municipality could make boundary changes through a bylaw appealable to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. Staff recommended a consultant oversee the process if council went forward with changes. T
he municipality has a disparity in its wards, with its most populous Ward 2 (3,886) having more than twice the population as Ward 1 (1,608) and Ward 3 (1,873), according to 2018 voter population counts. But councillors indicated it was not an issue they wanted to tackle at this time.
“We have an awful lot on our plate,” Mayor Andrea Roberts said. “Unless we had a glaring issue, I wouldn’t suggest this is something we would make as a priority right now.”
Clerk Mallory Bishop reported the topic was last raised after the 2014 election, and the council then felt a boundary review was not needed. But even in 2014, Wards 1-4 exceeded a 25 per cent deviation from the ward population average, a maximum threshold generally used by Elections Canada.
Bishop also noted “effective representation” as set out by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling states that population should not be the only factor in determining boundaries as geography, community history and minority representation also deserve consideration.
Coun. John Smith said the same Supreme Court ruling states that “relative parity of voting power” is of prime importance. He argued this is an issue Dysart should take on.
“We need to act on this,” Smith said. “The approach of kicking this can down the road is just perpetuating a problem that hasn’t just existed for a year or two.”
But no other councillors were interested in pursuing change. Coun. Larry Clarke said the municipality should hold off with a new census coming up, given the impact of the pandemic causing more people to permanently move to the area.
Deputy Mayor Patrick Kennedy said the ward structure stems from the geography of the original Dysart et al amalgamation. He added County decisions could impact the township’s ward structure.
“The other elephant in the room is County council has to determine whether we’re going to move forward with amalgamation,” Kennedy said. “You might only have one vote here in Dysart in the future if that goes through.”
Council committee of the whole voted to receive the report as information.
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander