Haldimand residents invited to weigh in on ward boundary review

HALDIMAND—Councillor Dan Lawrence currently has nearly two and a half times as many constituents in his ward as Councillor Rob Shirton does in his. 

That’s because of how Haldimand County’s wards are currently divided, seeing Ward 3 (Caledonia) with 13,379 residents compared to Ward 5’s (which includes Byng, Port Maitland, and Lowbanks) 5,767. Jack Ammendolia, managing partner at Watson and Associates, noted that data is from 2021, and with the county’s recent population growth largely centred in Caledonia, the gap is likely even bigger now.  

CAYUGA—Jack Ammendolia of Watson and Associates at a June 25 open house as part of the ward boundary review. —Haldimand Press photo by Tamara Botting.

His company has been hired by the County to serve as consultants for a ward boundary review. Currently, phase one of the process is underway. 

“The first phase is really us as consultants coming in and trying to learn about Haldimand County, learning about the existing governance structure; what works, what doesn’t work,” he said at an open house event on June 25, 2024 at the Haldimand County Administration Building. 

This process includes talking with County staff, “because they deal with it on the ground day to day”; doing one-on-one interviews with Council members to get a sense of what their workload is, whether they’re able to respond to residents’ inquiries in a timely manner, etc.; and speaking with community stakeholders – in particular, residents. 

Advertisement

 

Advertisement
Web-Ad-copy

 

“We want to know from the public, do you feel like the system’s working for you?” Ammendolia said. 

“The more we’re aware of what makes a unique local community tick, the more we can provide not a one-size-fits-all solution, but something that’s going to be more catered to the place we’re in.” 

He gave an example of a rural community his company had recently worked with that had 12 council members for a population of around only 13,000. While that initially seemed excessive, after speaking with stakeholders, the consultants realized that most of the councillors were farmers, meaning it was difficult to get a quorum at meetings during harvest season, and that a councillor could spend an entire day visiting just a handful of constituents because of the travel time required in the large geographic area. There, a 12-member council actually made sense. 

“It’s that kind of stuff that we’re really trying to learn in the first phase,” Ammendolia said. 

The consultants also have to consider and incorporate the guiding principles of changing ward boundaries. 

It’s not an easy task. 

“Ultimately, this exercise becomes this game of trying to balance all those things,” Ammendolia said, adding that the public’s preferences and the guiding principles “aren’t always copacetic. Sometimes those things are complete push-pulls. Even in the guiding principles themselves, some of the guiding principles are with tension against each other.” 

For example, representation by population, or making sure the wards have a relatively equal distribution of constituents, is a priority. But so is the idea of maintaining communities of interest, where a ward would ideally be made up of communities that have similar goals and focuses. 

“It’s almost impossible to achieve every guiding principle.… It’s really about trying to achieve as many as you can,” Ammendolia said. 

The ward boundary review process was started at the behest of Council; there’s no legislation that dictates when reviews need to be done. However, any citizen can bring concerns about how the ward boundaries are laid out to the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT), and their municipality would be obligated to defend it. 

Ammendolia noted that Council could ultimately vote to not change anything at the end of the review process, but given the disparity of the populations in Wards 3 and 5, he was confident that his company would be presenting some options for new ward boundaries to Haldimand stakeholders come the fall. 

Whatever decision Council makes has to be defensible, because again, “any ward boundary decisions can be appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal.” 

If anyone was unable to attend the recent public meetings to provide their feedback, there is still opportunity to do so by visiting the County’s website at 

bit.ly/HaldimandWardBoundaryReview.

Ammendolia strongly encourages everyone to voice their opinions; while some people may be tempted to disengage, or assume the decision has already been made, he said that’s not the case at all. 

“The more people can engage and give us their feedback, the better we’re going to be able to design a system that fits what they want,” he said. “We want people to tell us if we’re going down a road where maybe we shouldn’t; that’s what we need to know.” 

The plan is to come back with several options for ward boundary updates in the fall and do another round of public consultation. After receiving that feedback, the company will present its final recommendation to Council at the end of the year. 

Council’s intention is to have the process completed ahead of the 2026 municipal election.