In Tuesday night's meeting of BWG Town Council, councillors made their final decision on the new ward boundaries which will take effect in 2022.
This past winter, the town enlisted the help of Jack Ammendolia of Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. and Dr. Robert Williams to conduct a ward boundary review.
The last time a review was done for the town was in 2009; since then, population growth has occurred in some areas more than others, leading to a greater disparity in population numbers among the wards. .
The review was conducted to look at the town's current council composition and ward boundaries. The objective was to ensure fair and equitable representation of the residents at town council.
In the June 1 meeting of council, the consultants presented council with two options for consideration. The final choice ended up being Option 2:
This option maintained the current ward boundary system, with 7 councillors elected in 7 Wards, five in the urban area and two representing largely rural constituencies. However, the current Ward 4, which stretches from Bond Head into the west end of Bradford along the County Road 88 corridor, became a wholly urban ward, and the community of Bond Head was incorporated into rural Ward 5.
Option 2 used clear boundary lines along major arterial roadways, and came close to balancing representation by population, although the two rural wards continue to have below-average population numbers. Over time, as Bond Head grows, Ward 5 population numbers would approach the optimal.
Council approved Option 2, but asked the consultants to look at the impact of moving the boundary line between Ward 2 and 7 back to Simcoe Road, and setting the boundary line between Ward 3 and 5 at County Road 88 - splitting Bond Head between Wards 3 (currently largely representing the Holland Marsh), and Ward 5.
The consultants came back on Tuesday night to present the details and impacts of the proposed modification to Option 2.
The Ward 2/Ward 7 boundary change at Simcoe Road would keep the populations in acceptable ranges, consistent with the guiding principles of the review, Councillors were told.
Having County Rd. 88 as the proposed boundary line between Wards 5 and 3 would make for a larger population in Ward 3 especially in the long-term as Bond Head continues to grow. By splitting Bond Head between the two rural wards, it is expected that the population of Bond Head will represent approximately 62 percent of the Ward 3 population by 2031.
Deputy Mayor James Leduc suggested amending Option 2 further, to completely eliminate Ward 3. He proposed extending Ward 2 to Canal Road, encompassing the area east of Highway 400; west of the 400, Ward 3 would be absorbed into Ward 5. The result would be 6 Wards and 6 elected Councillors - and an even number of Council members.
The Deputy Mayor defended the elimination of Ward, suggesting that Marsh residents already have a strong voice, in the Holland Marsh Growers' Association.
"They have a strong voice," Leduc said. "I'm never going to worry about the rural."
He noted that every Councillor represents not only their own Ward, but all of the residents of the town. "If it's not your ward, you're still looking at it from a whole point of view," he said. "The leadership of the Council should be making sure all the voices are heard."
By combining part of the Marsh, Bond Head and the northern rural area, "not one area will dominate Ward 5, you will get voices from everybody," the deputy mayor added. "I don't want to make this a rural vs. urban issue, everyone needs a voice."
If an even number on Council is an issue - leading to the greater likelihood of a tied vote, when a tie results in a "lost" or defeated motion - Leduc suggested that at some future point, the town might consider eliminating the Deputy Mayor position, reducing Council further to seven members.
Coun. Jonathan Scott liked both Leduc's suggestion and the modified 2 option and noted he could vote for either.
Coun. Peter Dykie said that no matter what option is selected, he wanted to ensure there was always a mayor and deputy mayor position in Bradford.
"It's a big job. I have the highest respect for both positions and this town needs that system to represent the people as it grows," Dykie said.
"I am not for cutting this council and making it smaller," said current Ward 5 Coun. Peter Ferragine, noting it is a "minimal expense" to have one more councillor in the mix. He also pointed out that Ward 5 is already a huge area; adding a portion of the Holland Marsh would make it even more difficult to travel. He jokingly suggested that if the proposal was adopted, the town should provide the Ward 5 councillor with a car.
Gary Lamb, Ward 3 Councillor, also opposed the deputy mayor's option. "Representation by population is important, but representation of the population is also important," he said, noting that some municipalities have guaranteed rural wards, to ensure that rural areas are not overwhelmed by the urban vote.
Lamb said he had no issue with reducing the size of Council, but suggested the approach should be consistent, and maintain communities of interest. "All of the commercial/industrial activity will take place in the rural wards, and they deserve representation too," he added.
Council was advised that adopting the Deputy Mayor's proposal, or a proposal by Mayor Rob Keffer to retain the existing more linear Ward 4 stretching from part of Bond Head into Bradford. but rejigging the boundaries to reduce the population numbers, would require further public consultation. That would result in delays, and could mean that the Ward changes, if challenged, might not be approved in time for the 2022 municipal election.
The modified Option 2, as presented by the consultants, is close enough to the version presented for public comment that it could be approved without further public consultation, Councillors were told.
"The modifications were still in the spirit of what we presented. They weren't significant changes," said Ammendolia.
Dr. Williams agreed. "This is a minor change. This has had consultation. This is basically ready to go."
Deputy Mayor Leduc's proposed amendment, eliminating Ward 3, was defeated in a 5-4 vote.
Council then voted in favour of the consultants' Modified Option 2, with Councillors Ron Orr, Scott, Lamb, Ferragine, and Raj Sandhu voting in favour; Coun. Dykie, Contois, Deputy Mayor James Leduc and Mayor Keffer voting against.
The by-law to modify the current ward boundaries will be brought forward for enactment at the June 22, 2021, Special Council meeting.