Status quo gets slim nod over latest realignment proposal
For the third successive term, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees are putting off the question of how to address inequities in their ward representation until after the next municipal election.
Trustees voted 6-5 on Monday in favour of keeping the status quo and asking the next board to reconsider the matter if the city decides to rewrite its ward boundaries to reflect growth in areas like Binbrook and the south Mountain.
The move came after the latest proposal to revise ward representation drew so much criticism it failed to even make it to a vote, becoming the third plan to go down in flames this year.
“There’s nothing I like better than half a year of working hard for no result,” said a frustrated board chair Jessica Brennan, who chairs a governance committee that floated the first unsuccessful plan in May.
“But it is a complicated issue and this time we got a lot of community input that we didn’t have before,” she said, referring to formal consultation on a previous proposal that found little support for having Ancaster and Dundas share a trustee.
“Some people say, (have) one trustee per ward. That’s not going to happen, I don’t believe.”
Among the challenges of redrawing the political map is that trustees cannot increase their number from the current 11. The city has 15 wards, meaning some will have to represent multiple areas.
The push for change has been driven by concerns that the existing pairing of Ancaster’s Ward 12 with Ward 11, which includes Winona, Tapleytown, Binbrook and Mount Hope, creates an area that is too big geographically and doesn’t share high schools.
The latest proposal would have grouped Ward 11 with Stoney Creek’s wards 9 and 10, and given the area two trustees elected at large. Dundas and Flamborough would have also been combined and represented by two trustees.
Ancaster and Ward 1 in lower west Hamilton would meanwhile have shared a single trustee, as would have downtown’s wards 2 and 3. All other representation would have remained as is.
But even Alex Johnstone, trustee for wards 11 and 12, didn’t like the plan, despite favouring the Stoney Creek grouping, one she said people in Ward 11 also support because they share high schools.
She said Ancaster has little in common with Ward 1, making the status quo preferable.
“I believe that we really do need to look at this holistically and that we need to do it right,” Johnstone said.
“My hope is that after this upcoming municipal election that the city does create another ward in the Glanbrook area. That would make it easier. I would also like to see this body advocate for another trustee because I think that’s really at the crux of what we need.”
Trustees also voted 7-4 against a more modest call by east Mountain trustee Laura Peddle to approve the proposal’s coupling of Dundas and Flamborough, a bid supported by both areas’ representatives.
Ward 7 trustee Lillian Orban said although the pairing makes sense, it’s unfair to her area, which has nearly as many people and a single representative.
“We’re playing favouritism,” she said. “Either we look at this in a optics that are fair to everyone and not just look at a couple of areas and say, ‘We’ll fix you now but not the others.’ No, that’s not right for the community and it’s certainly not right for this trustee.”
But Flamborough trustee Karen Turkstra said there are no perfect solutions and the pairing would fix the problem of having elementary schools in her area and the Dundas high school they feed into represented by different trustees.
“I think we have a partially good solution that takes care of one part of the city that we consulted people on and they favoured it,” she said. “Not doing it, I think, does not service our communities. A partial solution is much better than a copout.”