Numerous councillors admit that the
proposed ward map is seriously flawed


From the...


 

Ward boundary fight begins Monday

Carly Weeks

The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, October 01, 2005

CREDIT: Pat McGrath, The Ottawa Citizen

Jack MacLaren, president of the fledgling Carleton Landowners' Association, says his group is gaining momentum, with hundreds of rural residents buying $20 memberships.

City officials are about to square off against residents for the second time in three years over proposed changes to the city's ward boundaries in what some anticipate to be a nasty showdown.

Despite admissions from numerous councillors that the proposed ward map is seriously flawed, it was passed by the city council in June.

The new ward system may have problems, but many councillors argue it's better than the status quo.

When the Ontario Municipal Board appeal hearing begins Monday, most of the rural groups that led the fight to halt the city's last attempt at redrawing the map will be absent. But their absence shouldn't be mistaken for satisfaction with the proposed new system.

 
   

Mr. MacLaren said his association of rural residents recognizes changing electoral boundaries will never address what many see as growing problems in the rural areas.

They say it's time to divorce the city. Ideally, they want the rural areas of Goulbourn, West Carleton, Osgoode and Rideau wards to merge and form Carleton County.


 
 

Instead of appealing the ward boundaries this time, some of Ottawa's rural leaders are setting their sights higher.

A growing number of rural residents has decided to focus their efforts on another mission: divorcing the City of Ottawa.

"Things are getting worse. We're becoming an overregulated society," said JackMacLaren, president of the Carleton Landowners' Association, formed in July in part to promote de-amalgamation.

Regardless of whether the city's new ward boundaries make it past next week's appeal process, some believe amalgamation wasn't meant to be.

Under the proposed ward structure, written by consultants at the Davidson Group, Ottawa would gain two councillors and three suburban wards. It would lose one rural ward.

Numerous councillors and residents have criticized the proposal, saying it will drive taxes up and cause further friction between urban and rural residents.

Adding two city councillors will cost taxpayers about $600,000 each year.

"What really bothers me with this city is they can't afford to hire police officers, yet we can afford to hire more councillors. If we can find (the money) for two new councillors, why can't we find it for 20 more police officers?" said Terry Kilrea, one of the appellants, who also plans to run for mayor next year.

When 11 municipalities merged to form the new City of Ottawa in 2001, the provincial government mapped out its first ward structure. Council decided to change those boundaries the next year, to address population growth, particularly in the suburban areas.

Many councillors, particularly those with booming suburban populations, hope the proposed ward system is approved.

Councillors Jan Harder, Diane Deans and Peggy Feltmate represent about 25 per cent of the city's population. They say the current system must be changed or their workload will spiral out of control.

If the new ward system isn't finalized by the end of the year, the city will be stuck with the same wards until at least the next municipal election.

The city has spent about $100,000 on consultants' fees, public discussion and staff resources to make ward changes.

 
 
Mr. Kilrea said the proposed system would leave some wards, such as Baseline, with a projected population of nearly 60,000 in 2012, compared to the new ward of Stittsville, with a projected population of about 25,000.

 
 

Now, three individuals and groups have launched appeals to what they described as an inadequate ward system that wastes taxpayers' money and doesn't go far enough to represent citizens.

Mr. Kilrea, as well as the Federation of Citizens' Associations of Ottawa-Carleton and Alayne McGregor, have filed appeals. Mr. Kilrea said the proposed system would leave some wards, such as Baseline, with a projected population of nearly 60,000 in 2012, compared to the new ward of Stittsville, with a projected population of about 25,000.

"What I hope to get out of this is to have the bylaw repealed and to have it done right, to have it done fairly," he said.

Robert Brocklebank, president of the citizens' association, said the proposed changes are a step forward, but will leave great inequalities in ward population.

"The thing that's really disturbing is that much of the way this revision has been described is that they project the population figures forward into the next decade and I think that's potentially really a problem," Mr. Brocklebank said.

He said his group would be satisfied if the OMB ordered the city to address the population inequality between wards before the next election. If that's not possible, the group would like to see the city make those adjustments before the 2009 election, Mr. Brocklebank said.

 
 
Numerous councillors and residents have criticized the proposal, saying it will drive taxes up and cause further friction between urban and rural residents.

 
 

Arguing over ward lines is a familiar spot for the city. Several groups of rural residents were successful at the OMB three years ago in getting the city's approved ward boundary system struck down.

The city returned to the drawing board, hiring a professional consultant to help.

The guiding principle was that of effective representation. Instead of drawing electoral boundaries using population numbers, a criticism of the previous review, the consultant was charged with delicately drawing new lines that would reflect the unique nature of the city's composition.

What this translated into was trying for a balance between the city's ballooning urban and suburban populations and rural residents, who felt their voices were being diluted.

The result, councillors admit, is far less than perfect.

"This is a choice not between perfection and imperfection, but the choice is between varying degrees of imperfection," said Baseline Councillor Rick Chiarelli.

It's that kind of thinking that has some rural residents convinced they'd be better off without their suburban and urban counterparts.

Mr. MacLaren said his association of rural residents recognizes changing electoral boundaries will never address what many see as growing problems in the rural areas.

They say it's time to divorce the city. Ideally, they want the rural areas of Goulbourn, West Carleton, Osgoode and Rideau wards to merge and form Carleton County.

It would be governed by rural residents who would be able to deliver the same services as Ottawa, but at a much cheaper cost, Mr. MacLaren said.

The idea seems doomed to fail, considering Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has vowed Ottawa will not de-amalgamate on his watch.

 
 
Many place high hopes on next month's rural summit.

Bob McKinley, former president of the rural council, said the group hopes for drastic changes coming out of the summit. If not, the group will also jump ship on trying to make the amalgamated city work, he said.

If the summit doesn't work, he said, "then there's no future for the relationship."

 

 
 

Separating the city's merged services, such as fire departments and the police, would prove to be a logistical nightmare, added Councillor Doug Thompson.

But that hasn't stopped hundreds of rural residents from buying $20 memberships in the Carleton Landowners' Association, Mr. MacLaren said.

"The (Carleton) Landowners' Association is a viable commodity," Mr. Thompson admitted. "They are gaining momentum."

Many place high hopes on next month's rural summit.

Bob McKinley, former president of the rural council, said the group hopes for drastic changes coming out of the summit. If not, the group will also jump ship on trying to make the amalgamated city work, he said.

If the summit doesn't work, he said, "then there's no future for the relationship."

Mr. Thompson said the city as we know it today could be in jeopardy if the rural summit fails to address the growing discontent among the rural population.

"It's probably going to take another two terms before everything is a unified city, if it still is that in two terms," he said.

Even if next week's OMB appellants aren't successful, the challengers of Ottawa's amalgamation aren't going anywhere, Mr. Thompson acknowledged.

 The Ottawa Citizen 2005

 

 

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