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Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday talks to reporters after a vote to dissolve the TCHC board failed to materialize due to a lack of votes March 8, 2011. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday talks to reporters after a vote to dissolve the TCHC board failed to materialize due to a lack of votes March 8, 2011. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Redraw Toronto's wards to reflect population, councillor urges Add to ...

Now that he's approaching the home stretch of a months-long effort to slash egregious councillor expenses, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday is setting his sights on a new pet project: redrawing Toronto's dated electoral boundaries.

"That's something that definitely has to happen," he said of ward redistribution, a minor cartographic adjustment that could produce a major political overhaul at city hall. "That, I think, will be one of the things we're going to move on as soon as we get the expenses out of the way."

The city's current ward borders date back to 2000, when the provincial Fewer Municipal Politicians Act forced council to downsize to 44 wards from 57. To ease the redistribution process, the city simply divided each of the existing federal and provincial boundaries in two.

By a law that does not apply to the city, federal and provincial riding boundaries adjust for population changes every 10 years.

"We've never really redistributed," said Mr. Holyday. "Eventually there's going to be some neighbourhood who's going to say, 'Holy cow, our representation here is a fraction of someone else because of these population swings and it's unfair.' "

The deputy mayor has already spoken with the city clerk, who would be responsible for recommending any boundary changes.

"The clerk is looking at it," he said. "The clerk is adamant that this must be done or we're going to be hauled before somebody to do it."

In theory, the city follows legal precedent that states each ward's population must fall within 25 per cent of a median figure. But as of the 2006 census, ward populations were decidedly uneven. Just 45,000 people lived within the boundaries of Ward 9 around Downsview, and nearly 80,000 resided a few minutes east in Ward 23.

The city relies on a voters' list provided by the Municipal Property Assessment Corp., rather than the federal census. The MPAC numbers capture the city's lumpy population growth more accurately, further underscoring how skewed the boundaries have become compared to the number of residents they encompass.

While wards filled with single-family homes grow slowly, if at all, a number of downtown wards have exploded with new condo-dwellers.

"In 2006, my voters' list had 35,000 names," said Adam Vaughan, councillor for the downtown ward of Trinity-Spadina. "This election, it was 51,000 - almost a 50-per-cent jump in voters my first term. We need to re-look at the map, but we need to figure out what's fair. I think a vote should be a vote."

The idea forms a rare bit of common ground between Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Holyday, one of Mayor Rob Ford's closest allies on council, even if they don't agree on the political repercussions.

If the redistribution were conducted according to the relative size of voters' lists, Toronto's left-leaning downtown would gain several wards, according to Mr. Vaughan, while multiple suburban wards would have to collapse into a single district.

"If you make the wards truly equal, the left takes over," said Mr. Vaughan, who downplayed any suggestion that conservative factions could use a realignment as an opportunity for gerrymandering. "I know this kind of thing always creates a bit of political friction."

The political complications don't end there. Any redistribution effort could complicate Mr. Ford's campaign pledge to reduce the number of wards from 44 to 22, a plan Mr. Holyday has yet to fully endorse.

"That's the mayor's office that will have to come up with a plan for that," he said. "I don't know that my plan is exactly the same as his. Regardless of whether we go in that direction or not, we have to equalize the wards. We can't leave them the way they are."

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