Ward boundary review process kicks off today in Springwater

For residents of Springwater Township, this week’s introductory ward boundary review sessions shouldn't be missed.

The township’s growth is expected to double to about 50,000 residents over the next 20 years — with 60 per cent, or 30,000 people, expected to live in Midhurst.

That growth is going to have a huge impact on how the township moves forward on almost every front, including municipal representation.

According to a ward boundary review report from Watson and Associates, which was presented to council at their May 2 meeting, wards should have relatively equal populations.

The firm said it’s generally accepted that variations of up to 25 per cent above or below the average size are considered reasonable and are consistent with legislated federal distribution provisions, precedents and past decisions and best practices in municipalities.

In Springwater, there are currently 17,506 eligible voters in the township, including 2,973 in Ward 1, 3,204 in Ward 2, 3,674 in Ward 3, 4,357 in Ward 4, and 3,298 in Ward 5.

“We need to understand how growth is occurring, where it’s occurring in your township, from ward-to-ward, and also where it’s going to occur," said Jack Ammendolia, managing partner at Watson and Associates, during his introduction of the ward boundary review process on May 2.

This week’s sessions, the first of two rounds of public engagement, will be held in person today (June 17) at the Springwater Township Administration Centre, located at 2231 Nursery Rd., in Midhurst.

The first session will be held from 2-4 p.m. and the second session will be held from 6-8 p.m.

Another virtual session is scheduled for Thursday, June 20 from 6-8 p.m. Members of the public who would like to comment or participate in that session must pre-register at www.springwater.ca/WBR

The ward boundary review, which cost $50,000, was approved in the 2024 budget.

Springwater’s current ward boundaries have been in place since 2014, but with the growth in Ward 4 and the projected growth in Ward 5, a ward boundary review was required prior to the 2026 municipal election.

The justification report that accompanied the budget request said the review should take place in 2024 to ensure there is adequate public consultation and ample time to meet legislative requirements.

The review should take about a year to complete, which would ensure the project, council's decision and any appeals are dealt with prior to the Dec. 31, 2025, legislative deadline.

Dr. Robert Williams, a public affairs consultant and municipal electoral systems expert who has conducted or advised on ward boundary and electoral system reviews in 30 Ontario municipalities, will be interviewing all members of council to get their impressions of the current system and their thoughts moving forward.

“The Municipal Act authorizes a lower-tier municipality, like Springwater, to do basically three things,” he said. “It can change the size of its council as long as there are a minimum of five members. One of those members has to be the head of council.”

Williams said that decision cannot be appealed.

“Second is how the council is elected, except for the head of council, who must be elected by general vote or an at-large system,” he added.

Other members can be elected by an at-large system or by wards, or by some combination of the two.

That decision cannot be appealed, either.

The last thing council can do is divide or redivide the municipality into wards or dissolve the existing wards.

“A bylaw under that revision is open to appeal,” Williams said. “Any member of the community, or council also I suppose, could appeal that bylaw and the Ontario Land Tribunal would be required to examine the bylaw to see if it can stand.

“Our goal is to make sure no appeal is needed,” he added.

Any appeals must be fully resolved by the Dec. 31, 2025 deadline in order for the ward boundary changes to take effect for the 2026 municipal election, if that’s the direction council wishes to go.

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com