A new study is recommending changes to Toronto's city ward boundaries that could radically alter their shape and numbers, and it has city councillors worried about how their ridings and council itself will be affected.
The $800,000 study – which concludes current boundaries are outdated – was first requested by the city in 2013 to tackle the problem of varying populations in the wards. Downtown wards especially have higher populations than suburban ones. Keeping the populations even ensures votes carry the same power across wards.
In Toronto, the wards are currently based on the 22 federal electoral ridings, a decision dating back to 2000. Each federal riding was divided into two wards, creating a total of 44. Federal redistribution have since added three more ridings. Under the old system, that would lead to six more wards. That option was popular when the report was announced, but Gary Davidson, one of the consultants who wrote the report, said it was quickly discounted by the authors.
"It doesn't provide effective representation. It doesn't solve the key problem, which is that some Toronto wards – especially the downtown ones – are very large, and then there are other smaller wards," Mr. Davidson said.
The report outlines five possible solutions. The first, called the "minimal change" option, would leave the boundaries as intact as possible, but add three – resulting in 47 wards. The second, called the "44 wards" option, would keep the number of wards intact, but redraw them to account for population change. Option three, called "small wards," would substantially increase the number of wards to 58, and decrease the average population to 50,000. Option four, called "large wards," would do the opposite, decreasing the number of wards to 38, while increasing the average population size to 75,000. The final option, called "natural / physical boundaries," would redraw the wards to take in account neighbourhoods and landmarks. The total number of wards would be slightly reduced to 41.
The study focused on the population projections for 2026 to give the new wards a life expectancy of about four municipal elections, until 2030, Mr. Davidson said.
Councillor John Filion represents Toronto's largest ward, Willowdale, and has pushed for a change in the ward boundaries since 2006. He said he sees strengths and weaknesses in all the options, and expects the issue will divide city council.
"There isn't going to be any perfect solution and in the end, unfortunately, it will probably get pretty political," he said.
Councillor Rob Ford, who represents the west-end riding of Etobicoke North, said he doesn't like any option. When he was mayor, Mr. Ford pushed to cut the number of wards in half, matching them to federal ridings. He still thinks that's the best option, and said he will introduce a motion to reduce the number of wards to 25.
"I've worked on numerous campaigns … I can't remember once coming across somebody saying 'Rob, I want more politicians,'" Mr. Ford told the Globe and Mail.
If his motion fails, Mr. Ford said he would support option four – large wards.
Mayor John Tory echoed Mr. Ford's sentiments. In an e-mailed statement, Mr. Tory said he does not want to increase the number of councillors, but didn't directly reference the report.
"The last thing we need is more politicians," he said.