Monday, March 12, 2012

Not to put too fine a point on it...

It's not often that I get jarred by a notion. It happens, but as I'm a pretty free-thinking guy, open to a pretty broad range of possibilities, it's not something that happens all the time.

But over the past week, something was suggested to me that jarred me. And I'm still blinking my way to getting my head around what nudged me askew.

The background topic is 're-drawing ward boundaries'. The generally-accepted standpoint being that there is far too much of a discrepancy between the most densely populated wards and those on the opposite end of the spectrum. (According to the most recent figures on wards –2006, as the 2010 numbers haven't officially been released yet– the worst situation has a 4:1 ratio. And I was under the impression that provincial legislation mandates at most a 2:1 ratio.)

Which is why I had taken the time to come up with this map:

The more-or-less basis of each ward is 40,000 people. (No, there's not absolute parity here. But I'm willing to bet that it's pretty damned close to that goal...and to think; it didn't cost The City tens of thousands of dollars. Here's the original post, its title a message to all those who say that all I do is editorialize.)


Let me go back to the original thought that prepped me for being jarred:

"...since Ward 2 is chronically under-represented."

This viewpoint was both confirmed and expanded on by someone else:

"Yep, we've been having this discussion for a couple of years and it's typically included an expectation that ward reform included lightening the load across the more challenging wards. It seems only fair that the wards with the most complex and long suffering populations and problems get a fresh chance with a smaller ward."

Now, while I immediately tapped out a request for more information after receiving the first notion, I'll freely admit that when I received the second, I sat there and stared at the screen. 

I began trying to reconcile this with the idea of 'representation by population'. (A system that, admittedly, is very difficult to actually make happen fairly, across the board. No matter at what level of government we're talking about.)

Because as it stands now, we have at least one ward that is in fact, 'grossly over-represented' at Council: Ward 14. And considering Ward 6 has four times the population...


But for the sake of argument, were you to 'prioritize' the 'long-suffering populations' within Ward 2, were you to elevate its 'most complex problems' and 'give them a fresh chance with a smaller ward', how would you divvy things up? North-south? East-west? Because the southern verges of the ward are surely different from its northern ones. So even on a geographical level, the proposition is problematic.

And even if you could decide how to do it, doesn't it make more sense to also look at Ward 3? Or, aiming at consistency, Ward 4?

(This line of thinking is ironic. Because for the longest time, I've wanted to promote dialogue around the idea that Wards 2, 3 & 4 have a concerted, declared campaign focusing on revitalizing the North End of Hamilton.)

I guess, if you saw it reasonable to split Ward 2 in half, you could argue to do the same in Wards 3 & 4. So these areas of the city would have twice the voice they currently well as twice the City Hall resources, all things remaining equal. 

However, here are some issues that come to mind when suggesting that Ward 2 deserves what amounts to 'special treatment': 

-When do you go back to 'less representation'? What are the bench-marks that will allow this? In other words, when do you go back to the paradigm we currently have? At what point can you say 'OK, we've made sufficient progress, we don't need what amounts to 'affirmative action' anymore.'? 

-Many parts of the city don't 'care' about downtown. Which is Ward 2, for the most part. How could you possibly hope to sell this idea to them? We already have sufficient 'disharmony' in place. (And no, I'm not talking about 'de-amalgamation'. There's no question that it's not reasonable for someone in Waterdown or Binbrook or even Winona to effectively 'prioritize' Ward 2's travails. But we don't even have to be talking about the 'outlying' areas. Why should it be important for someone on the Mountain to care so much about Downtown that unbalanced representation-by-population be made all the worse? (Remember, Wards 7 & 8 are already sizeably 'under-represented' at Council.)

-Unless you entirely stacked Council with additional members from 'Wards-in-Need', you're never going to have sufficient votes in-and-of-themselves to be able to push through a mandate to pro-actively and comprehensively address the legacy woes that Ward 2 has seen growing over the past two decades. 

I'd like to end off by taking up that final point. 

I don't believe that addressing Ward 2's needs could ever be properly done by essentially doubling its representation at Council. No matter how marvellous a councillor you have...unless they're this incredible talent who's able to generate an exemplary amount of momentum, who's the receptacle of visionary leadership...they're not going to be able to foster the kinds of shifts in perception, the kinds of change that the area so desperately needs. These kinds of efforts must come from Council in general. They must be the result of a cohesive, 'critical-mass' synergy, a force of conviction that is indomitable. A force sufficient enough to overcome legacy inertia. As is clearly present in Ward 2. 

That's how cities are changed. Not by -no matter how you choose to rationalize it- stacking the deck.

Hamilton needs to be able to talk about its issues. We deserve to be equipped with all the relevant information, unfiltered by the agenda of anyone at City Hall, and ultimately, be contributing to decisions that profoundly affect what the re-imagining of Hamilton will look like. 

M Adrian Brassington

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.