According to Coun. Judy Partridge a group of citizens is “very close” to hiring a municipal law expert to spell out their legal options. – John Rennison,The Hamilton Spectator
Hamilton’s controversial ward boundaries issue isn’t over yet.
There’s a move afoot by a citizens’ group — supported by several local politicians — to appeal last month’s Ontario Municipal Board decision that would see the city’s only standalone rural ward wiped off the map.
Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin and councillors Judi Partridge, Robert Pasuta and Terry Whitehead are offering varying degrees of support to the group, including strategic advice and, in Partridge’s case, a personal financial commitment.
The four decline to identify members of the group, maintaining it’s up those involved to step forward when they choose.
But Partridge says the circle consists of a growing core of 20 people from the suburbs and Mountain whose focus is preserving west Flamborough’s sparsely populated Ward 14 rather than see it split between Dundas and Ancaster as directed by the OMB.
According to Partridge, the group is “very close” to hiring a municipal law expert to spell out their legal options, which likely include an appeal to divisional court or a judicial review.
“I do not want to infer in any way that the residents have made that decision to go forward (with an appeal),” said Partridge.
“We need to get that information back saying here’s what you can do, here’s what’s recommended that you do, and here’s the decisions you need to make.”
Nonetheless, Partridge says financial commitments to help fund a legal battle have been made.
“I’ve been talking to many, many companies out there who’ve been calling me and they’re all willing to put money forward, including myself.”
The group apparently coalesced in late December after council voted 8-7 against Pasuta’s motion for the city to appeal the board decision in divisional court.
Pasuta (Ward 14) argued unsuccessfully that the redrawn boundaries will weaken the rural way of life. Partridge (Ward 15) and Whitehead (Ward 8) strongly supported him.
McMeekin (Liberal MPP for Flamborough-Ancaster-Dundas-Westdale) subsequently expressed surprise council voted against challenging the board decision.
The city originally launched a ward boundary review to address concerns about growing population disparities, particularly on the Mountain.
The matter ended in front of the OMB when a couple of residents complained that council ignored its own $260,000 consultant report in favour of tweaking the boundaries themselves.
Council voted for a compromise settlement with one appellant. But the OMB sided with the other appellant and imposed one of the consultants’ options on the city, basically redrawing all of Hamilton’s 15 wards while eliminating the current Ward 14 and creating a new ward on the Mountain.
McMeekin, former municipal affairs and housing minister, questions the appropriateness of the board deciding one citizen’s complaint should override council’s compromise.
“I don’t know how successful an appeal would be, but based on that principle I would support proceeding with an appeal.”
Pasuta says he’s heard from many residents who are willing to fight to preserve Ward 14’s rural voice at the council table.
“People are wanting to step up to the plate and put money into it.”
According to Partridge, the framework for an appeal would be based in part on potential errors in law identified by the law firm that represented the city at the OMB hearing.
Those include: The board did not restrict itself to reviewing the reasonableness of the city’s option but applied its own preference; it improperly prioritized voter parity over promoting effective representation of rural interests; it misunderstood the evidence of the city’s consultant.
In a report to council, the law firm Loopstra Nixon calculated the city had a “fair chance” of succeeding with an appeal. Partridge, who represents east Flamborough, says residents are “massively” disappointed that council didn’t take that step, which would have cost around $50,000.
The fact Pasuta’s motion was defeated by one vote and that Mayor Fred Eisenberger voted against it has some people speculating he may pay for it politically during his re-election bid this fall.
“He’s not very popular in Flamborough right now,” admits Partridge.