POPULATION PROBLEMS AT THE REGION

By now it has been well established that West Lincoln is getting their extra Regional Councillor. Not that anyone can blame them for trying. After all, their population isn’t much lower than four other municipalities. In fact, Thorold itself has only 4,301 more population (2016 census), for now anyways, and some are even closer in number.

The problem isn’t with West Lincoln: it’s with the way Regional Council is structured. And the problem is also with the fact that, while their complaint about proportion has merit, we can’t forget that St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls have been complaining they don’t have enough representation according to their populations (known as Rep by Pop) for some time now.

According to 2016 census figures, the Region of Niagara has 447,888 citizens. Assuming that’s right, and using the present count of Regional Councillors at 30 (including mayors), each Councillor should represent 14,929 people.

By that number, West Lincoln already had proportional representation with their one Councillor. However, Thorold, Niagara-on-the Lake, Pelham and Port Colborne would also be entitled to just one. St. Catharines and Niagara Falls would each get two more and Welland one more. The others would stay the same, except Wainfleet, who wouldn’t have any with less than half the required population.

In order to make West Lincoln’s request proportional, as well as our own, the number of Regional Councillors would have to be doubled to 60. If you think it’s chaotic with 30, picture the mess with twice the numbers.

The answer may lie in Rep by Pop, if we eliminate lower tier municipal boundaries. Since they’re supposed to represent the interests of the entire Region of Niagara, there really isn’t any reason for them to be allocated by lower tier municipality.

The other possibilities are amalgamation (which no municipality but St. Catharines wants to discuss) and the Region abandoning Rep by Pop altogether. To start with, the mayors shouldn’t be on there anyways. When the Region was formed (oh, day of infamy!), the idea was that mayors would be on there to provide experience in the new system, and they would be phased out when the other Councillors got settled. I guess they never did get the elected councillors settled in, because the mayors are still there.

And, Like Mayor Luciani, they complain the amount of work involved there, what with committees and all. Small wonder, since they still have their own home municipalities’ work to be done.

The idea the, floated by Thorold Councillor Fred Neale, would be to just directly elect two Regional Councillors from each municipality. That would mean just 24 Regional Councillors, down from the 30 we now have.

But what about Rep by Pop? Wainfleet would have two Councillors for 6,356 people and St. Catharines would have two Councillors for 131,400 people. That hardly seems fair. Well, maybe, but there are a couple of things to take into account.

The first is that Rep by Pop is a wonderful ideal, but it’s just that. In Ontario, riding populations range from 71,648 (Timmins-James Bay) to 151,943 (Halton). Canadian ridings are proportionally even worse, ranging from 26,728 (Labrador) to 128,357 (Niagara Falls). Senators here are appointed by Region, with B.C. Senators each representing 775,001 people and Nunavut Senators representing 34,023 people. In the United States Senate, each state gets two, despite the difference in size between Wyoming (563,767 in 2010 census) and California (37,252,895 in 2010 census). Their House of Representative is better proportioned, but still varies by as much as 50% between districts.

The other thing to take into account is that the Region, for anything of earth-shattering importance, presently has the triple majority. That requires a vote in favour from a majority of Councillors from a majority of municipalities AND representing the majority of the Region’s population. This pretty much makes Rep by Pop a moot question.

So, will they ever do a governance review to decide how best to go? Hard to say. First of all, they require enough Councillors from enough municipalities representing enough people to be dissatisfied with the status quo. And some will have too much to lose.

And, let’s face it. For too many politicians, although not all, political survival is rule number one.

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