County undertakes first big ward review since forming

HALDIMAND — Haldimand County is set to undergo a major review of its municipal ward boundaries for the first time since the municipality was separated from Norfolk and its six wards were formed.

The review will be conducted by Watson & Associates Economists Ltd (WAE). According to a press release, reviews typically take place every three to four election cycles to “ensure the electoral system represents the principles of effective representation.”

HALDIMAND—The county’s six current wards vary significantly in size from 41 sq. km (Ward 3) to 354.5 sq km (Ward 4), which is one factor the review will consider.

The review, established by the current council as a top term priority, kicked off last week with a presentation by WAE Managing Partner Jack Ammendolia and Municipal Electoral System Expert Dr. Robert Williams at a Council-in-Committee meeting.

The central questions presented as a basis for the review are:

  • How does the present electoral arrangement for Haldimand County measure up?
  • Do the current wards deliver fair representation, conducive to good governance?

“What are the key things Council should be asking themselves throughout this process?” asked Ammendolia. “Does it work right now? Do your committees work? Do you have good accessibility from constituent to the councillors? Do you have a decent workload? Are you able to return calls in a timely manner? Does the system work … not only for you but for other councillors around the table?”

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The review, once complete, could not only lead to changes to Haldimand’s ward boundaries, but potentially to the number of wards in the county, and therefore the number of councillors.

According to a County release, the guiding principles of the review are:

  • Balancing present and future population distribution among the wards
  • Respecting established neighbourhoods and communities
  • Respecting geographic features and defining natural and infrastructure boundaries

Ammendolia said they have experience with municipalities formed through amalgamation, sometimes with as many as “five or six former townships,” where the ward boundaries were determined by the province’s understandings at the time: “The question is, does it still make sense in 2024 with all that’s changed and the way things have grown?”

“We’re trying to improve the way the public interacts with Council. That’s what the final overarching goal of this review is,” said Ammendolia.

In terms of potential changes, Ammendolia believes that population will be a big driver.

“We want to ensure wards are relatively equal in population so that councillors have a relatively equitable workload,” he explained. “You might have a decent size population in your ward, but if its 350 sq km compared to Ward 3 at 40 sq km, then you might have some different issues in terms of geography and reaching constituents.”

Williams touched on the provincial legislation and the options available to the municipality moving forward.

“The province, through the Municipal Act, offers some direction about what you can do, but doesn’t tell you anything about how to do it, or where to start,” he explained. “This basically is the starting point.”

Election rules require a minimum time between when any changes are written into bylaw and the next election, and in this case changes must be adopted by December 31, 2025 ahead of the October 2026 election.

“Our goal is to do this in plenty of time for the clerk and his staff to be ready for that, but also in the case of an appeal, that the appeal is heard before December 31, 2025,” said Williams.

He continued, “Your community is changing, we know that. There is growth that has happened since the county was created in its current form and there’s more growth anticipated. You’ve got to navigate that growth and the way the community changes.”

Ammendolia shared some early observations: “You have a population in 2021 of almost 50,000…. The population continues to grow at a pretty unprecedented rate, growing at about 1.5% per year over the last 10 years and even more rapidly over the last 3-4 years,” he said. “For context, Ontario grows at around 1.2% per year, Canada around the same.”

Ammendolia continued, “It’s not equitable throughout the county. Some areas are growing more significantly than other areas…. Ward 3, which is already our largest ward and already creating variance amongst other wards, is also the ward that’s growing the fastest, and the ward that’s likely to continue growing the fastest.”

A large component of deciding any changes will be determined through public engagement. To that end, the County will be hosting an in-person open house at the County Administration Building on June 25 from 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m., as well as a virtual open house on June 27 at 1 p.m.

The County also has general information available for review online at:

haldimandcounty.ca/wardboundaryreview.

The Press will continue to follow this review as it develops.