Commission Hears Feedback About New Combined Guelph-Halton-Wellington Riding

On Wednesday night, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario opened their Zoom lines for people in Guelph, Wellington County, Halton Region and Mississauga to talk about the proposed changes to the electoral map. The voters in these areas might be looking at some pretty big changes to their current ridings, and they had some very specific thoughts about the proposed maps.

To recap, back in August the commission revealed the proposed new district maps, which included the separation of Guelph into two different ridings (see map above). The proposed new boundaries will divide the city with an L-shaped border line. A riding called “Guelph” will continue to contain the majority of the city, but areas south of Wellington Street to the Hanlon and then south of Hanlon Creek to Arkell Road will be part of a new ward called Wellington-Halton.

Not only will  Wellington-Halton have much of south Guelph, but it will also include Erin, parts of Halton Hills to the city limits of Georgetown, and parts of Milton north of Side Road #15 along with the townships of Centre Wellington, East Garafraxa, Guelph/Eramosa and Puslinch. Naturally, a pair of representatives from south Guelph had something to say about this.

“I’m concerned that residents of south Guelph who fell under the proposed boundary change would become a small segment of voters in a huge geographic and largely rural riding,” said Ward 6 Councillor Dominique O’Rourke in her designation.

“While the principle of representation by population is central in our democracy, consideration also has to be given a community of interest; the challenges in Minto, Erin and in rural townships are just not the same as those in south Guelph, which is the fastest growing part of a city that is one of the fastest growing cities in Ontario,” O’Rourke added.

“Population parity between Ontario’s federal ridings should, of course, be a goal of the commission, but it shouldn’t be the only goal. Effective representation of, and advocacy for, community concerns is vital to a healthy democracy,” said O’Rourke’s council colleague Councillor Mark MacKinnon in his own designation.

“I believe there’s greater harm to effective Federal representation by carving off the southern portion of Guelph, and subsuming those residents into the surrounding predominantly rural Wellington-Halton riding, then there would be if you allow those Guelph residents to remain in the cohesive urban riding of Guelph that aligns with its municipal boundaries,” MacKinnon added. “Fracturing Guelph into two types of Guelph residents – an urban Guelphite and a minor urban/rural Guelphite – does not serve the best interests of anyone, nor does it create a more balanced or equitable federal democracy.”

Both O’Rourke and MacKinnon made the argument that there was enough wiggle room in the redistricting rules around population distribution, so theoretically the commission can keep Guelph together until the next review when they might be able to split Guelph a little more equitably. There was also some commentary about how the south end has struggled for legitimacy within the municipal boundaries of Guelph and how separating them at the Federal level would undo those efforts.

“Potentially I could see an alignment of a portion of Guelph with Puslinch since we at least have a common corridor, groundwater concerns, the Paris-Galt Moraine and boundary issues in common,” O’Rourke suggested.

“If the commission determined that this is not possible, I would ask that you, at a minimum, to include Guelph in the name of the electoral district,” she added. “Currently shifting 25,000 people in south Guelph to the Wellington-Halton riding – where there is little community of interest, where they may have very little voice, and where Guelph is not even included in the name of the riding – could be a cure that’s worse than the status quo.”

There was one other delegate from Guelph, a resident named Paul Kraehling who also lives in the south end of the city. Kraehling is presently a sessional instructor at the University of Guelph and was a municipal planner for 30 years, so he was concerned that the focus on re-organizing ridings by population, and not issues of common community interest, might accidentally promote more voter apathy.

“I would urge you to have a greater focus towards uniting communities of interest. You should include the current municipal boundaries, people understand those and and it helps to encourage, in my belief, voter turnout and participation,” Kraehling said.

“In brainstorming ideas here, I came up with the possibility of creating a ‘Guelph Centre’ riding that would comprise the older parts of the community, and then the suburban portions of the city on all sides  and not just on the south side, would necessarily have to be added to a new ‘Wellington  South’ riding,” he added.

Other delegates focused on how the current Wellington-Halton Hills riding would be divided and the impact on communities there, including one delegate from Acton who was concerned about being spit off from Georgetown, which could become a part of the new Georgetown-Milton East. A delegate from the Burlington area were also concerned about their city being divided between four different ridings with Halton Regional councillor Pavan Parmar saying the redistricting was a “top 3” election issue in her municipal campaign.

Many of the delegates were current local and regional councillors in various municipalities who also all universally agreed that the timing for the hearing, right in the middle of province-wide local elections, was not doing a lot to promote input and democratic ideals.

According to Ontario Superior Court judge Lynne Leitch, the commission member who moderating the hearing, 104 people signed up to either participate or observe the proceedings.

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