Voting may change drastically in Hamilton, as the Ontario Municipal Board votes on how the city ought to divide up the city’s ward boundaries.
The discussion began earlier this year after city council hired a third party consulting firm to review the current ward boundaries and how they interact with population distribution throughout the city.
The firm created a series of different suggestions based on their own research, but city council ultimately scrapped these suggestions in order to adjust the boundaries themselves. They have focused their efforts on ensuring suburban residents have more representation in city council.
Local citizens have taken issue with this process, some accusing the councilors of gerrymandering, or the process of dividing up geographic areas to give a politician more political control.
One of the main issues at hand focuses on whether ward 1, which includes Ainslie Wood and Westdale, should be split up and absorbed into ward 13, which is the ward representing Dundas.
Joey Coleman, a local journalist, has expressed concerns about splitting up the student vote throughout two different wards.
“We are affected the exact same way by decisions made by council, and often times, disproportionately so. These may range from issues regarding by-law enforcement, to housing regulation, and investments or divestment in transit.”
McMaster Students Union
“The Dundas councillor has no reason to effectively represent student interests as the students are a small segment of ward 13 with their potential votes (even if they voted at the average of 40 per cent, which they do not) diluted among 30,000 residents of Dundas,” Coleman wrote in an analysis from Oct. 11.
At the Oct. 25 OMB hearing, McMaster Students Union president Chukky Ibe spoke against the ward 1 split, arguing that the McMaster is a cohesive community of interest.
“We are affected the exact same way by decisions made by council, and often times, disproportionately so. These may range from issues regarding by-law enforcement, to housing regulation, and investments or divestment in transit,” Ibe said. “This community is first of campaigned too, and then disproportionally targeted, and scapegoated for political gain.”
Within his delegation, Ibe referenced the specific issues affecting students, such as transit and policing which affect students disproportionately.
“When the major bus route is altered through McMaster, or service reduced in the summer, it is this community that feels the brunt of it. When our councillor Johnson worked to increase the presence of student by-law officers patrolling our neighbourhoods, it is our students that pay fines close to 700 dollars,” he said.
Ibe expressed particular concern about the student neighbourhood’s access to city funding, particularly the Area Rating Reserve Fund. This $1.5 million fund is given to wards 1 through 8 in order to help facilitate local infrastructure projects.
If the ward 1 split is approved, students who live in ward 13 will lose access to this project, as the largely suburban area of Dundas does not receive this funding, instead relying on property taxes to pay for these projects.
“Taking away a significant part of our community will weaken the incentive, elected officials have to heed the concerns of their constituency. We lose our critical mass in one regions, and in the other region, our population becomes deeply insignificant, further entrenching this negligence by council on the issues that matter to us,” Ibe said.
The OMB has previously voted that students count as a community of interest. In Nov. 2013, the OMB voted that the main student neighbourhoods in Kingston were their own cohesive communities. The OMB will release their decision as soon as possible.