For years Hamilton residents have had to accept the political reality that their municipal vote may not be as important as others at the ballot box.
Ever since the provincially imposed 15-ward boundary system in began 2001, it was established that the suburban areas received preferential political treatment as a concession to merging with the old city of Hamilton.
As the consultant hired by the city to review the ward boundaries, Watson and Associates bluntly explained the ward system, with its eight urban wards and seven rural and suburban wards, is unequal and doesn’t provide effective representation to residents. When Ward 14 can have 17,000 people, and Ward 6 can have 62,000, a “democratic deficit” has been created.
The consultants recommended two options: a 15-ward system which reconfigures the wards to better reflect the city’s growth, and a 16-ward system that adds another ward on the Mountain.
Council members were not satisfied and demanded a third option. That option, where most politicians provided a few suggestions, as consultant Robert Williams stated, “preserves the status quo.”
Councillors resorted to all sorts of arguments to not vote for a ward boundary change. They talked about how politicians shouldn’t be placed in the position to redraw their wards and that an independent third party should do it instead, even though an independent consultant had just provided them with a few sensible options. They said the rural representation would be ignored in a revised ward boundary system, and they talked about how changing a ward boundary would somehow prevent neighbourhood associations from working together.
But what the real issue is and has always been is that suburban politicians are comfortable within their political boundaries.
However, as Hamilton continues to transform and grow, so should the political structure. Ward 11, for instance, is a massive land mass that is both urban and rural and stretches from Mount Hope to Lake Ontario, yet has only one councillor. The Mountain continues to experience rapid growth and will continue to see expansion as bus rapid transit is installed. To have one councillor represent 62,000 people, the size of a small city, is limiting the democratic representation of those people.
It is expected Hamilton politicians will approve essentially the status quo at their Feb. 8 meeting. Residents will once again force reluctant politicians to make a necessary political structure change when they appeal council’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board.
Hamilton’s political system is broken. But Hamilton’s own representatives failed to address a fundamental aspect of democracy for their own political expediency.