Ottawa's finance committee voted on Tuesday to modify the ward map that independent consultants produced for future municipal elections, despite cautions that politicians should not interfere except in minor ways.
Mayor Jim Watson said the final decision for new ward boundaries falls with council and it needs to address residents' concerns, especially those of francophones in the rural east end.
"While [the consultants] did a very good job... councillors know their wards better than almost anyone else," said Watson.
The biggest modification was to shift lines significantly in the rural east, where residents decried the giant rural ward that had been proposed. Many people addressed committee, relaying fears francophones would no longer be represented along with residents in Orléans but instead with rural residents as far away as Osgoode village.
Their new councillor, Cumberland's Catherine Kitts, heard those concerns "loud and clear" while campaigning this fall. She said having votes carry relatively the same weight among wards matters, but so do minority language rights.
So, finance committee approved bringing a rural swath that includes the villages of Navan and Sarsfield into a ward with growing suburbs in Orléans. Cumberland village was already to be joined to an urban Orléans ward in the north. That leaves only Carlsbad Springs and Vars villages to join a rural ward with Osgoode.
Committee also approved moving the dividing line in Vanier from McArthur Road south to Donald Street. Eastway Gardens, a community with alphabet street names near the Via Rail station, was moved back into what is currently Alta Vista ward.
But when it came to a motion to restore McKellar Park to what is currently Kitchissippi ward, as residents wanted, the committee voted against it. That leaves the boundary at Denbury Avenue, as consultants propose. The councillors in the area, Jeff Leiper and Theresa Kavanagh, questioned the consultants' underlying assumptions about how populations will grow in the area, especially with new developments around LRT in its second stage.
Only Coun. Scott Moffatt voted against the many changes, and he opposed the ward boundary recommendations themselves.
Council to grow to 24 wards
A few councillors who have no votes on the committee reminded colleagues that council had been told to stay out of the redrawing of electoral lines.
"I understand if it's a parking lot or a field... but councillors in my view should not be moving portions of the electorate in or out of their ward boundaries against the advice of independent experts we hired," said Capital ward's Shawn Menard.
Menard asked if it might lead the city to lose an appeal at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.
"Yes, we feel some of the changes do not achieve effective representation and would cause some difficulty in defending it," said ward boundary consultant Gary Davidson.
The city clerk has said ward boundary reviews are usually appealed. The mayor, meanwhile, expects the changes to be defensible.
As for the size of council, the approved plan would see it grow by a seat to 24. Watson would have preferred it remain at 23 seats plus a mayor. He had even wanted council to shrink, when first elected a decade ago.
"I tried that. It didn't work. I'm not going to rehash history," said Watson. He's happy with the new 24-seat map, because keeping council the same size "was not going to be possible given geographic considerations and population bursts in different parts of the city."
The proposed ward boundaries, and amendments made by finance committee, go to full council for a vote Dec. 9.