“The main function of government is the protection of the public interest. … Fewer elected representatives mean a greater workload on each politician, fewer to target with corporate lobbying and where it occurs, a smaller number of politicians to buy.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Sudden Hit on Municipal Governance s is “Tinpot Dictator Stuff”
A Message from CATCH – the public watchdog group Citizens at City Hall – in Hamilton, Ontario
Posted July 30th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
What would it be like to have just five city councillors in Hamilton? That’s effectively what is facing residents of Toronto in the wake of Premier Ford’s unilateral decision to slash its council numbers by nearly half, a move that is being described as “tinpot dictator stuff”.
The main function of government is the protection of the public interest, but that’s under constant pressure from corporations and other private interests. Fewer elected representatives mean a greater workload on each politician, fewer to target with corporate lobbying and where it occurs, a smaller number of politicians to buy.
The Ford formula being imposed on Toronto is one councillor for each provincial riding. Hamilton has five provincial ridings so the same formula applied here would eliminate ten council positions.
It would leave one councillor covering all of Flamborough and Glanbrook including Waterdown – an area stretching from the edge of Milton to the border of Grimsby. The combined communities of Ancaster, Dundas and parts of west Hamilton and the west mountain would also get just one representative.
Similarly, the remaining mountain residents currently scheduled to have four seats around the next council table would have just one. Everyone living below the escarpment from Ottawa Street to the border with Niagara would have one councillor. And that would leave the remaining lower city residents from Ottawa Street to the 403 with the final local representative.
In each case, about 110,000 people would be “represented” by a single city councillor in a governance structure that is supposed to be most accessible to the people. This change isn’t immediately on the horizon, but if the premier gets his way in Toronto it could easily be extended to Hamilton and other municipalities.
There is ample precedent for such dramatic reduction in representation by provincial fiat. An earlier Conservative government forced amalgamation on Hamilton and its suburbs nearly two decades ago. That legislation chopped the number of local councillors and mayors in Hamilton (the former Hamilton-Wentworth) from 59 down to 16.
Before amalgamation there was an average of one local politician for each 8300 residents. That average varied from community to community climbing to nearly 20,000 in the former city of Hamilton. That meant just over 6000 residents per local politician in the suburban communities. Post-amalgamation each councillor represented an average of 30,000.
Not surprisingly the bitterness about amalgamation remains very high in those smaller communities who went from each having their own mayor and a complete local council to being limited to either just one spokesperson in civic affairs (Dundas, Glanbrook and Ancaster) to no more than two (Stoney Creek and Flamborough). Those whose views didn’t align with their single representative found themselves with no alternative.
Under the new ward boundaries applicable in this fall’s city elections, each councillor will have the task of representing an average 35,000 residents. But that number would more than triple if the Ford formula is imposed on Hamilton.
Arguably the current 15 councillors can’t be expected to adequately handle the tasks before them. In one recent month, the calendar had eleven committee and/or council meetings composed exclusively of councillors, and twenty-six other committees in which at least one councillor was expected to participate.
Councillor Aidan Johnson, for example, sits on five standing committees and ten subcommittees, and also represents the city on five boards and agencies and three advisory committees. Each meeting has an agenda and staff reports, frequently exceeding 50 pages that councillors are expected to read.
Altogether the city currently has over 115 committees with most meeting at least once per month. While many are composed entirely of volunteers, council is expected to at least oversee and respond to their deliberations. It’s hard to see how Hamilton’s governance structure could function with even fewer politicians.
CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org .
You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/ ?p=subscribe .
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