Ward Boundary Review: Six options presented, but only option rural residents see is a weakened voice at Council
By Jeff Morris
There have been six options being considered for the ward boundaries for the City of Ottawa. But for rural residents of Ottawa who let their voice be heard to the consultants working on the boundaries, rural Ottawa has no options, and they are losing a voice at City Council.
The City of Ottawa hosted a public Zoom meeting Tuesday night to discuss the rural implications of the six options in the city’s ward boundary review. The mandate of the meeting was to review Ottawa’s current ward system and have a discussion with the public and with stakeholders on what they see as effective representation moving forward into the next three and possibly four municipal elections. Tuesday’s meeting was the only one in a series of meetings that focused on the rural wards.
The meeting was hosted by consultants Beate Bowron of Beate Bowron Etcetera and Gary Davidson of the Davidson Group. It was one in a series of public Zoom meetings hosted by the city, and it was the only one focusing on the rural wards.
Currently, the rural wards in Ottawa are Rideau-Goulbourn, Osgoode, West Carleton and Cumberland. Five of the six options see the suburban population of Cumberland becoming their own ward, leaving rural Cumberland becoming part of the Osgoode Ward. The other option sees Cumberland and Osgoode merging to form an eastern and southeastern rural ward, and Rideau-Goulbourn and West Carleton merging to form a western and southwestern rural ward.
“It’s a matter of balancing the various components,” Davidson said. “Each option weighs the components in a different way.”
Ottawa’s ward boundaries last underwent a major review in 2005. Since then, the city’s population has grown significantly, especially in suburban wards. This has resulted in substantial population imbalances between wards that affect fair and equal representation for voters and their communities.
In June 2019, City Council directed City staff to retain an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive review that will establish ward boundaries that could be used in at least three municipal elections (2022, 2026 and 2030) and possibly a fourth election in 2034. The Ottawa Ward Boundary Review 2020 is meant to balance population numbers and achieve other components of “effective representation,” as established by the Supreme Court of Canada and Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (formerly the Ontario Municipal Board). The consultant team will collect public feedback on the six options for realigned ward boundaries from August 19 to September 25, 2020. The options include:
• Option 1, which increases the number of wards to 25, with 13 urban wards, nine suburban wards and three rural wards.
• Option 2, which increases the number of wards to 24, with 12 urban wards, nine suburban wards and three rural wards.
• Option 3, which maintains the current number of wards, 23, and includes 11 urban wards, nine suburban wards and three rural wards.
• Option 4, which also maintains the number of wards at 23. It also includes 11 urban wards, nine suburban wards and three rural wards. The boundaries for each ward are different than those in option three.
• Option 5, which reduces the number of wards to 17, with nine urban wards, six suburban wards and two rural wards.
• Option 6, which increases the number of wards to 24, with 12 urban wards, nine suburban wards and three rural wards. It minimizes ward boundary changes.
Davidson argued early in the presentation that because the rural population in Ottawa was less than the urban and suburban populations in Ottawa, that the rural vote actually carried more weight at the council table.
“There are four councillors in the rural area, and the rural population is only 10 per cent of the city’s population,” Davidson said.
Osgoode Councillor George Darouze would jump and correct Davidson, informing him that the rural population of Ottawa was actually 19 per cent. Darouze sided with the residents raising concerns on the call.
“There are a lot of factors, but you just slammed rural Cumberland into Osgoode,” Darouze said. “The fact is, we are talking about six options, but we only see one option, and that is Cumberland becoming part of Osgoode.”
Darouze also questioned the consultants on what they considered to be rural and brought up the complexities of wards that had dwellings in villages, on farms and in country settings.
“What is your definition of rural?” Darouze asked. “Is it just have a well and septic system?”
Darouze also pointed out that the size and shape of the proposed ward was not considered. He said that new ward would have more than 800 square kilometres. He noted that one quarter of the city’s geographical area would be in the proposed Osgoode-Cumberland Ward.
ost of the protest on the Zoom session came from Francophone residents of Cumberland. Former politician Don Boudrias led the charge, saying that the Francophone community and ties with Orleans were not considered when the boundaries were drawn.
He asked Bowron and Davidson considered languages and the Francophone community when drawing up the boundaries. After the consultants tap danced around the question, he asked it again, more directly. They responded by saying their mandate was to divide suburban and rural residents, and that Cumberland’s suburban population had grown big enough to warrant having its own ward.
Davidson eventually did say that language was taken into consideration, adding that Orleans has 36 per cent of its population with French as its first language, and Cumberland has 31 per cent of its population with French as its first language.
“We know there is a Francophone population,” Bowron told Boudrias. “But for a Francophone ward, there are not enough people.”
The options are available online at ottawa.ca/wardboundary, where wards can be viewed at the individual street level and options can be layered over one another to view the boundary changes proposed in each option.
After this round of public consultation, it is expected that the consultant team will bring forward a Final Report with recommendations to be considered by the Finance and Economic Development Committee and City Council within the next three months. The consultants said the report had to be presented to Council before the end of December in order to hit the time targets for the new boundaries to be in effect in time for the 2022 election.
Feedback on the ward boundary options can still be given online through Fri., Sept. 26 at Ottawa.ca/wardboundary and also at Engage.Ottawa.ca