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OPINION: Council needs to consider adjusting its ward boundaries

Public Affairs columnist Jonathan Scott discusses the need to rework Bradford's ward boundaries
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Jenni Dunning/Bradford Today

At its meeting tonight, Bradford West Gwillimbury Town Council will finally begin to consider adjusting ward boundaries for the next municipal election.

It’s been a long time coming.

When I first wrote about this issue, it was true to say that “Bradford West Gwillimbury’s Council wards are all over the map… From 2,300 to 5,100, with every variation in between, this discrepancy from ward to ward is a flaw that needs to be fixed to ensure fair democratic representation.”

At the time, Town Clerk Rebecca Murphy argued, “As expected the numbers are evening out a little as development occurs, but are still not equal by ward.” 

On the contrary, today the problem is far worse: the smallest is Ward 6, now at roughly 3,700 residents; the largest is still Ward 1, with over 8,400 residents. The average ward size is now 5574, accordin,g to the staff report.

No single ward coheres exactly to that average; three are within what is termed an acceptable “deviation from the average” of less than 25 percent difference. Four are outside that acceptable range, with Ward 1 over 50 percent higher than the average.

When I last wrote about this issue, I suggested a ward boundary review could look to shrink the number of wards from seven to six, given that the population of the town was 36,000, which could be nicely divided into six wards. However, today’s population is already 40,000, and the town staff are proposing to ensure effective voter representation “ideally, for at least three elections”.

Assuming my division skills are still with me, that means seven wards are likely the best bet based on today’s reality.

The main issue, then, is dealing with the composition of the wards so they more closely adhere to the average size of 5,574 voters.

The town staff report states, “Further principles of effective representation include: protecting communities and neighbourhoods of interest (ie. the Marsh, Bond Head, Newton Robinson, rural [versus] urban, downtown Bradford); respecting physical features or natural barriers as boundaries; reviewing existing and proposed developments for future population growth projections; and ward history. All of these principles would be taken into consideration and guide the review.”

Nowhere is this truer than Ward 4, which strangely combines Bond Head and rural West Gwillimbury with new subdivisions along Line 8 and Professor Day Drive. It’s a mish mash of a ward; arguably, it’s gerrymandered to dilute the rural vote.

It’s likely that addressing the odd shape of Ward 4 could instantaneously allow for the necessary additional voters to be added into Ward 6, in the heart of the old downtown and subdivisions along Fletcher Street, which would allow for that ward to more closely align with the average. This “nipping and tucking” of Ward 4, as well as Ward 1, would allow the populations to be evened out with minimal upheaval in the three wards that do not have the same deviations.

The need to address these unequal ward boundaries is an imperative.

Last week, my column on the broken governance structure of Simcoe County Council generated a lot of discussion online.

Bradford West Gwillimbury needs to get its own wards in order, too.