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Cars drive through Caledon, Ont., on Oct. 3, 2020.Kate Dockeray/The Globe and Mail

A trio of cities west of Toronto are set to vote on a power shift that will dilute the clout of the smallest of the three, sparking a squabble about how best to achieve democratic representation in a rapidly changing area.

The seat redistribution by Peel Regional Council – which includes the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon – was proposed in the wake of an enormous population influx into parts of Southern Ontario. If passed as expected on Thursday, the council’s change would mean two more seats for fast-growing and increasingly urban Brampton, and two removed from lightly populated and more rural Caledon.

Politicians from these cities have been trading verbal barbs since Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown proposed the change late last month.

Caledon says reducing its number of councillors would give those that remain a massively increased workload and that, being a largely rural community, it needs to be represented based on area instead of strictly by population. It points out that most future growth in Peel will come in Caledon.

Brampton, meanwhile, argues that its new heft at the council would be a long-overdue recognition of its huge population growth. And Mississauga says there is no public appetite for a larger council, meaning that reallocating seats is the only way to achieve greater fairness.

The issue of representation is complicated because all three cities contribute to shared services such as regional planning, social programs and waste management. By paying more into the pot than they get out, Mississauga and Brampton are effectively subsidizing Caledon.

Under the current setup, each Brampton representative at the regional council speaks on behalf of about 97,000 people. Each councillor from Mississauga represents about 65,000 people and each from Caledon about 15,000.

“A Brampton resident should not be worth one-sixth of what a Caledon resident’s worth,” Mr. Brown said.

He added that, in its current form, the regional council diminishes the voice of his city’s increasingly racialized population. “It certainly doesn’t reflect the mosaic of Peel Region.”

Caledon was about 19-per-cent visible minority in the most recent census, in 2016, while Mississauga’s figure was 58 per cent and Brampton’s was 67 per cent.

Peel Region has a population of approximately 1.5 million. If it were a single city, it would be the third biggest in the country, behind only Toronto and Montreal. However, Peel consists of independent municipalities that collaborate on some government functions. It is a marriage dating to 1974, at times an uneasy one, that members occasionally push to leave.

“If this is not the right time that Mississauga [and] Brampton be allowed to be free-standing cities, let’s have a little greater representation by population, make it a little more fair for everyone,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said.

A steady influx of immigrants has turned Brampton into Canada’s ninth-most populous city, more than double its size 20 years ago. Mississauga has been growing rapidly for a half-century and now ranks sixth in the country. Caledon is far less populated than its neighbours – the 83rd biggest city in the country, it is roughly the same size as Saint John – but has more than half the total land mass of Peel Region.

“I have no problem with Brampton wanting to have the representation by population, for a large urban municipality such as [themselves], absolutely, I have no issue with that, but why at our expense?” asked Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson.

He accused Mississauga of acting like “spoiled brats” because it hasn’t been able to split from the region.

“I really do believe that it isn’t really about the representation,” Mr. Thompson said. “I think they’re trying to tick off the province and I think they figure if they can just pick on Caledon enough maybe Caledon will want to go alone, so [Mississauga] can do their own thing.”

Ms. Crombie, who pointed out that it was Brampton that introduced the change, dismissed the allegation as “extremely unfair.”

Seat redistribution of Peel Region’s council – which has 24 elected members plus the regional chair, who votes only to break a tie – will be discussed at a public meeting Thursday morning and voted on later in the day. If passed, the new council would continue have 12 elected members from Mississauga, as well as nine from Brampton, up from seven, and three from Caledon, down from five.

This would rebalance somewhat the council, although if the change was based strictly on population Caledon would have just one seat.

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