Wanted: two more Council seats

March 8, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Tom Claridge

There was a time, not that long ago, when a premier of Ontario decided that 130 seats in the provincial legislature was far too many.

The premier was Mike Harris and the result was the Fewer Politicians Act of 1996, which got a lot of attention and was likely one of the more popular moves by his Progressive Conservative government.

The Act reduced the number of constituencies by roughly one-third – from 130 to 103 – by simply declaring that the province would in future have identical federal and provincial ridings.

So it is that today we have federal and provincial ridings of Dufferin-Caledon, with David Tilson representing its roughly 110,000 residents in Ottawa and Sylvia Jones representing them at Queen’s Park.

The only change over the two decades since the Fewer Politicians Act was passed has been an increase in the number of ridings, reflecting the province’s rapid growth, to 122 at stake in next June’s provincial election and the federal election next year.

The perceived popularity of the 1996 law was reflected three years later with the government’s passage of the Fewer Municipal Politicians Act, which accompanied several forced amalgamation and saw all municipalities in the Sudbury basin replaced by a single entity, the City of Greater Sudbury, with a single city council in an area not that much smaller than Prince Edward Island.

So, while we’ve always had a form of ‘rep by pop’ (representation by population), the fact is that politicians today must serve far more voters than was once the case.

For example, until 1934 Dufferin County had members at both Ottawa and Queen’s Park, and 100 years ago the county’s MPP was one of 111, who together represented a provincial population of under 3 million. (At that rate, each riding likely had fewer than 30,000 residents.)

Over the years, something similar has been happening at the municipal level, and not just in the big cities and regional governments.

I strongly suspect that few residents of Orangeville realize that the current town council is smaller than its predecessors were when the town was a fraction of its current size.

The fact is that back in the days when Orangeville had a population of about 3,000 (one-tenth its current size), the town had a mayor, reeve, deputy reeve and six councillors – nine members – or that for some period of time there was also a ward system which ensured that poorer neighbourhoods had someone on council.

I don’t know when it was decided to reduce the council’s size to its current level, with a mayor, deputy mayor and five councillors, but it likely was before the local population began to soar in the 1970s.

While it may well be true that there is no ideal size for a municipal council, I think a strong case can and should be made for having nine members on the Orangeville council formed by voters at next fall’s municipal election.

There is surely no doubt that we had many good candidates for the 2014 election, some of whom might well have behaved much better than the current often-fractious group.

A check of the two centres’ websites confirmed that Collingwood and Owen Sound, each of which has about two-thirds Orangeville’s current population, both have nine-member councils.

As well, I think there should be an investigation of the pros and cons of restoring the ward system, as a means of ensuring  that all parts of the town have someone representing their potentially different circumstances.

If nothing else, a ward system would encourage residents of newer parts of town to seek office.

(A compromise arrangement might see a nine-member council having four members from wards and the other five elected at large.)

Of course, Orangeville isn’t the only lower-tier municipality in Dufferin County that has been growing in recent years. Shelburne and Mono have both had rapid growth, but while each town now has more than 8,000 residents Mono still has the same five-member council it had in the days when it was a township of 2,000 or so.

And if a ward system might be advantageous in Orangeville, it would be doubly so in Mono, where the urbanized southeast and southwest corners of the town have no one on the current council.

Although having fewer politicians at various levels of government has been promoted as a cost-saving move, the trend seems to have been accompanied by a weakening of political control, with too much often being done by town staffs and merely rubber-stamped by the councils.

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