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A ballot box in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, July 18, 2011. Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
A ballot box in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday, July 18, 2011. Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

Should Toronto’s councillors get to pick their constituents? Add to ...

Toronto’s 44 city councillors have been wrangling over the future ward boundaries of a rapidly growing and changing city. Should Toronto add new wards, or stick with the current number? Should it adopt the federal riding map, which has just 25 Toronto constituencies? Should a situation where some wards have half the population of others – effectively giving voters in those parts of the city extra influence on city government – be allowed to continue? How should Toronto’s wards boundaries be redrawn?

Electoral redistricting is a puzzle that has many possible right answers. It is also, however, a game with a few definitively wrong answers. Wrong Answer No. 1: Leaving the creation of the electoral map in the hands of the current crop of elected politicians. It is conflict of interest personified.

It’s also how things work at Toronto City Hall, and in many other municipal governments across the country. This is a big problem. Voters should get to pick their politicians; politicians should not get to pick their voters.

This principle has long been recognized in the federal government, and by all provincial governments. In the House of Commons, ridings are redrawn and new seats are added roughly every decade, based on the census. The same thing happens in the provinces, generally every 10 years or after ever second election.

To ensure fairness, the job of deciding where to draw the lines is entrusted to independent electoral boundaries commissions, working with clear rules that tend toward one person, one vote.

Take the electoral boundary commission that redrew Saskatchewan’s federal ridings prior to the 2015 national election. The commission created several urban-only ridings, out of previously urban-rural hybrid ridings. All else equal, that disadvantaged the Conservative Party, then in power in Ottawa. No matter. The commission was independent, and the changes went through.

In contrast, Toronto’s wards were last redrawn in 2000, and some parts of the city, notably the downtown core, have undergone explosive growth since then. The map doesn’t reflect that, but city councillors from areas where seats will be lost or amalgamated aren’t exactly rushing to change things. They’re conflicted – which is why this job must be taken out of their hands.

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