Crickets. Rolling tumbleweeds. The sound a single email makes when it lands in your inbox.
These are strange sounds in the office of local city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon.
But they sum up the so far mute reaction to news that Ward 32 residents may be voting in a dramatically reshaped ward in 2018.
“It’s really important to hear from everyone, and I’ve heard from one resident in Ward 32 so far,” said McMahon.
“I’d like to see Ward 32 continue, personally,” she said. “But I need to hear from my residents.”
On Aug. 11, consultants tasked with drawing a more evenly populated ward map for Toronto released a report, made after a year of public consultation, that lists five options.
Only two of the five keep Ward 32 in something close to its current shape.
Councillors commissioned the $750,000 review because populations in Toronto’s 44 wards are growing more and more unequal.
In an extreme example, Willowdale councillor John Filion has 93,687 people to represent this year, while Toronto-Danforth councillor Mary Fragedakis has just 44,404.
In real terms, such disparities mean that depending where they live, residents may have a tougher time getting their local councillor on the phone.
That could open the city to a legal challenge. If councillors don’t agree on a more equal ward map by 2016, a resident could petition the Ontario Municipal Board to do it for them.
With the motto “draw the lines,” consultants doing the study are asking for public feedback on the five options. They range from a system of 58 small wards with an average of 50,000 people each, to one with 38 large wards with 75,000.
In the small wards model, Ward 32 would shrink slightly, mainly by losing the Danforth Avenue neighbourhoods north of the CN railway.
On the map of large wards, the local ward stretches from Victoria Park all the way to the Don River, and includes all the neighbourhoods south of Gerrard Street, the Port Lands and the Leslie Street Spit.
The other three options seek minimal change, wards with geographic boundaries, or a set-up that keeps the total number of wards and councillors at 44.
Ward 32 has slightly fewer people than the city average of 61,000, but McMahon said it’s still a very busy ward.
“There’s never a dull moment – there’s never a spare moment,” she said.
On a typical day, McMahon’s office gets 150 to 200 emails from residents, and several times more when there is a breaking issue, such as the spring discussion about the Gardiner Expressway.
People in Ward 32 are particularly engaged, she said, noting that people in the Beach make more 311 calls per capita than any other neighbourhood. The ward is home to a growing list of 60 community groups, six BIAs, and several community and recreation centres.
Besides staying in touch with those groups, publishing an email newsletter and hosting events with the help of staff, McMahon votes at council and community council meetings, is a member of three committees, and is a board member at Ted Reeve Arena, the Young People’s Theatre, and the Design Exchange.
Asked what sort of workload the next local councillor might face if the ward expands to cover 79,000 people, McMahon said it’s hard to imagine how it might work.
“We do our best to respond to residents as quickly as we can, and it’s a challenge.”
McMahon agrees the wards need to change, and not only because of population.
The current layout is awkward in that many wards are divided along major streets with a different councillor responsible for either side – at Coxwell and Danforth, there is a different councillor for every corner.
Looking over the options, McMahon can see pros and cons. People may like small wards if they want more attention, she said, but she can’t see much appetite for sending 14 more councillors to City Hall.
But before a final report goes to council in May, McMahon is hoping to hear a lot more from residents about what they want.
To see the report, or fill out a survey about the options, visit drawthelines.ca.
The boundary review commission has also scheduled a dozen public meetings on the issue, the closest of which will be held on Thursday, Oct. 8 at the Riverdale Hub, 1326 Gerrard St. E., from 7 to 9 p.m.