Hamilton politicians will be discussing a possible appeal of the recent Ontario Municipal Board decision that effectively eliminates the current Ward 14. – By Kevin Werner, HCN/file photo
Hamilton councillors will be discussing whether to appeal the Ontario Municipal Board decision that eliminates the predominately rural Ward 14 in Flamborough and creates a new ward on the mountain.
“I think we should,” said Mountain Coun. Terry Whitehead.
But Whitehead – if council agrees to the board’s order to create the new ward boundary structure, which will be implemented for the 2018 municipal election – will see a portion of his Ward 8 hived off to compose the new Ward 14, and fourth ward on the mountain.
“I won’t vote to appeal it, but I also won’t stand in the way if (council) does,” he said.
Whitehead was examining the proposed ward boundary structure late last week still “shocked” at the board’s 43-page decision.
“They wiped out the only rural voice in Hamilton,” he said.
Hamilton Coun. Robert Pasuta, who has represented Ward 14 since 2006 when he was first elected to council, said the board decision was dispiriting.
“I’m disappointed that it was looked at the way it was by the OMB,” he said. “I don’t think they understand the rural way of life.”
Hamilton councillors ignored two preferred ward boundary options provided to them by consultants Watson and Associates. One of the options included a 16-ward boundary, while the other one was 15 wards but redesigned to accommodate to expected population growth along the mountain and upper Stoney Creek.
Politicians instead adopted a ward boundary structure in February that was essentially the same as the current model with a few minor changes.
Councillors said they wanted to protect the rural voice within Hamilton’s democratic process.
The board’s view, though, said the rural voice will be protected with their revamped ward boundary structure.
The board’s hearing officers wrote that Hamilton couldn’t single out rural residents for protection at the expense of losing the political voice of other people, including visible minorities and students.
Whitehead remained critical of the arguments the board made, including its desire to preserve students as a community of interest in west Hamilton.
He said students who live near Mohawk College in his current Ward 8 will be separated with the Ward 14 boundary set at Garth Street.
“They are not consistent,” he said.
Mountain Coun. Tom Jackson said he was “disappointed” at the decision, but he isn’t convinced appealing the decision to court is the proper move.
“I’m not for spending money on an appeal,” he said.
Under the board’s ward boundary structure, he will lose the Macassa neighbourhood, including Macassa Lodge and Macassa Park, while gaining a few new neighbourhoods.
Whether Hamilton’s rural community will be lost remains an open question, he said.
“(The board) feels Ward 15, 12 and 13 will be representing the rural community,” he said.
Under the new ward boundary structure, part of Ward 14 will be absorbed by Ancaster with the other section integrated into Dundas.
Ward 14 is the least populated ward at about 16,640 people in 2015, and projected to remain relatively unchanged by 2026 with 16,075 people. Ward 7, in contrast, has about 62,435 people in 2015. But Ward 14 is the largest geographic land mass among the wards.
Pasuta, who has been experiencing some health issues, especially after he fell off a tractor last year, said he was considering seeking re-election in 2018.
“Now I don’t know. It’s too early to make a decision or comment on that.”
Ward 15 Coun. Judi Partridge who represents Waterdown and a sizable portion of the rural area of Flamborough, said the board “wiped” Ward 14 out of sight.
“I don’t think (the board) understood the complexities of the rural area – basing it just on population are not accurate.”
Stoney Creek Coun. Maria Pearson said the board’s decision remains a “real shock” to the city’s rural community.
“I feel bad for those people,” she said.
She was also surprised that under the proposed ward boundary structure has Ward 5 absorbing a large portion of the urban part of lower Stoney Creek area.
Politicians will be discussing the legal implications of seeking an appeal of the board’s decision behind closed doors Dec. 18.
Issues that will be top of mind include spending taxpayers’ money to seek an appeal, delaying the implementation of the ward boundary structure which could impact the 2018 municipal election, and whether the city could win such an appeal or possibility seeking a judicial review if there was some error in law.