Proposed changes to the electoral system in Central Manitoulin are problematic

To the Expositor:

Councillor Adam McDonald initially raised the issue of removing Central Manitoulin’s Ward system. I assume that this was motivated by complaints from some taxpayer, and/or a desire by some to have better control over the actions of council by some special interest group.

Based on this seed of an idea, Former Councillor Steve Orford was recruited to make a presentation to council on abolishing the current three-ward system, in favour of having just four councillors elected by all voters in Central Manitoulin.

Currently, the wards are somewhat imbalanced, as Carnarvon (Ward 2) has 48 percent of the registered voters in Central Manitoulin, but only gets to elect 33 percent of the councillors on council; which is 44.56 percent lower councillors per voter representation for Carnarvon than ideal.

People often assume that wards and ridings must have equal population, but this is not the case. The Supreme Court ruled on the Carter case for Saskatchewan in 1991, and other courts found this ruling applies to Ontario Municipal elections as well, more recently by Ontario Municipal Board’s 2009 decision for Vaughan. Ward boundaries require “effective representation based on the relative parity of voting power,” but also require the consideration of “countervailing factors” such as (but not limited to) rural/urban divide, community history, community interests, minority representation, and “other factors that effectively represent the diversity of our social mosaic.” Rural constituencies have always been larger geographically but smaller in population, while urban/suburban constituencies have demonstrated the opposite pattern. The accepted standard is to have wards and ridings with 25 plus percent variation, but even greater variation is acceptable in exceptional circumstances. For federal ridings in the North, 50 plus percent variation is an accepted norm.

A meeting was held to discuss the options and get feedback from the public for Central Manitoulin’s ward system. During the public meeting, Councillor Adam McDonald proposed a second option, where some councillors would be elected by the ward system, and some councillors would be elected at-large by all voters in the municipality. I was concerned about this proposal, as it overly complicates the election process, and would likely result in a splitting of the vote among candidates (ie. a candidate could only run for a particular ward, or at-large, but not both).

I ran a computer simulation based on Steve Orford’s proposal, assuming the next election would have the same number of voter who were eligible or participated in the 2010 election, and presented the simulation results at the public meeting. In all five scenarios tested, the Orford proposal could result in worrisome outcomes for future municipal elections. In some simulation scenarios, Carnarvon was able to elect all six councillors under the Orford proposal, leaving Campbell and Sandfield with no representation whatsoever at council. These extreme outcomes caused by the proposed removal of the ward system greatly concern me.

For defining a ward system, council can act on its own to add, remove, or change it, or be requested to act by taxpayer’s petition. Under Section 223 of the Municipal Act, if taxpayers feel the ward system (or lack thereof) is unfair, they can petition the municipality to act provided they have at least 50 taxpayer signatures, and the least of one percent or 500 signatures. In the end, the municipality can be forced to act by an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.

In Central Manitoulin, I feel many voters are concerned about the potential imbalance between the majority in urban Carnarvon Township vs. the rural minorities in Campbell and Sandfield. The amalgamation agreement between the three townships guaranteed two councillors for each ward. For these and other reasons, I have significant concerns with both the Orford and McDonald proposals for modifying our ward system.

If a ward change must occur, I suggest a 3-5-2 distribution of ward councillors is better than the other two proposals.

For all possible cases between four (Municipal Act minimum) and 10 councillors, the proposed 3-5-2 councillors split was found to provide the minimum ward-to-ward variation in voters per councillor (ie. -6.62 percent variation for Sandfield).

This proposal also ensures that all townships get at least two councillors, respecting the Amalgamation Agreement, and avoids the possibility of Campbell and/or Sandfield losing representation in a municipal-wide election without wards.

Councillors are very busy people, often too busy. Another advantage of this proposal is that 10 councillors can better share the workload at the council table. It also gives a greater diversity of opinions and skills at the council table. Both of these factors can help ensure faster and better decisions by council.

Another advantage is that if an urban/rural divide occurs on some issue before council, the three councillors for Campbell may side with the two councillors for Sandfield, for a total of five votes for the rural side of the issue, which counter-balances the five councillors for urban Carnarvon. This deadlock would require the reeve to vote, so as to break the tie. Hopefully the reeve will vote so as to respect the greater good for all taxpayers throughout the municipality.

I therefore suggest no change to the current ward system, or if change must occur, then council consider three councillors for Campbell, five councillors for Carnarvon, and two councillors for Sandfield.

Glenn Black
Providence Bay