Why did the City revisit Ottawa’s ward structure?

    In June 2019, City Council directed City staff to retain an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of the City of Ottawa’s ward boundaries. The review was meant to establish boundaries that could be used in at least three municipal elections (2022, 2026 and 2030) and, perhaps, a fourth municipal election in 2034. The last major review of Ottawa’s ward boundaries occurred in 2004-2005.

    The City of Ottawa has seen a considerable spike in population since the last ward boundary review – particularly in Barrhaven (Ward 3), where there has been expanded development of residential communities. The population in other wards has also increased, notably in Gloucester-South Nepean (Ward 22) and Cumberland (Ward 19). Population projections indicate these areas will continue to grow.

    A review of ward boundaries is intended to achieve “effective representation” as established by the Supreme Court of Canada. Effective representation is the “goal” of all ward boundary reviews.

    What is Effective Representation?

    Generally speaking, “effective representation” means that one person’s vote should be of similar weight to another person’s vote. When applied to wards, the term suggests that wards should be of similar population size. In practice, achieving effective representation for ward boundary reviews involves balancing several components:  

    • Voter Parity: Ward populations should be similar but not identical and should be in the range of +/-10 per cent to +/-15 per cent of the average ward population. Larger percentage variations are possible, but only in exceptional circumstances such as in Ottawa’s functioning rural community or in rapidly growing wards.
    • Natural/Physical Boundaries: Ward boundaries have to be recognizable. Natural boundaries such as rivers and the Greenbelt, and physical boundaries such as highways, railways and arterial roads make good boundaries.  
    • Geographic Communities of Interest: Ottawa’s neighbourhoods such as the Glebe or Hintonburg and commercial areas such as the ByWard Market are considered to be “communities of interest.” When re-aligning ward boundaries, geographically contiguous communities of interest should not be divided, unless they are so large that they must be split to achieve voter parity.
    • Minority Interests: Minority interests should be considered if they are geographically based.
    • Ward History: Ward design should, where possible, consider the history of the ward. However, ward history by itself cannot override other major criteria such as voter parity, strong natural/physical boundaries and communities of interest.
    • Capacity to Represent: Capacity to represent is often equated with Councillors’ workload. It includes matters such as ward size, types and complexity of issues, ongoing growth and development, etc. and has to be taken into consideration when designing wards.  
    • Geographic Size and Shape of a Ward: All wards cannot be the same geographic size. Some areas of the city are more densely populated than others and some wards have more open space. Ottawa is especially unique with respect to this component of effective representation because of its large rural area.
    • Population Growth: The results of the Ottawa Ward Boundary Review 2020 are meant to last for at least three municipal elections (2022, 2026 and 2030) and, perhaps, a fourth municipal election in 2034. The target election for an evaluation of effective representation is 2026. This allows for Ottawa’s expected growth to be factored into ward boundary calculations.
    • Balancing the Components of Effective Representation: While all components of effective representation must be taken into consideration, they are not all equal. Voter parity, respecting communities of interest, and well-defined, coherent ward boundaries are the most important components.

    How did the City review its ward structure?

    In accordance with Council direction, an independent third-party consultant team was retained to lead the comprehensive ward boundary review in order to ensure that the process of determining ward boundaries was impartial and approached without preconceived ideas or predetermined outcomes.

    During the 12-month process, the consultant team:

    • Completed background research
    • Developed population projections
    • Led the public consultation process to collect opinions about Ottawa’s current ward boundaries (Round 1) 
    • Developed five options for re-aligning Ottawa’s wards
    • Prepared and presented an Information Report to the Finance and Economic Development Committee and City Council setting out options for re-aligning Ottawa’s wards
    • Developed a sixth option at City Council’s request, based on        certain criteria 
    • Led the public consultation process to collect feedback on the six options to re-align Ottawa’s wards (Round 2)
    • Prepared and and presented their Recommended Ward Boundaries - Final Report to the Finance and Economic Development Committee and City Council

    What did the consultation process look like?

    Consultation was conducted in two rounds. Round 1 collected input on what the public, stakeholders and Members of Council would like to see changed in Ottawa’s current ward boundary alignment, while Round 2 collected feedback on the six options for realigning Ottawa's wards.

    Some of the public meetings and sessions with stakeholders for Round 1 were cancelled as part of the City’s response to COVID-19. Due to the necessary cancellation of the in-person public meetings, residents and stakeholders were strongly encouraged to complete the online survey, submit input through the Guest Book, or provide written input.

    Because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, six public consultation sessions during Round 2 were held via Zoom. Three of the sessions invited comments from participants from all over the city, while another three sessions focused more on each of Ottawa’s geographic communities – urban, suburban and rural. Three additional Zoom sessions were held for stakeholders (e.g. Business Improvement Areas, school boards, city-wide associations, community groups, etc.). Sessions occurred on varying days of the week – including Saturday – and times ranged from mid-morning to late afternoon to the evening hours. Round 2 also included a public survey (online and available in hardcopy), virtual interviews with all Members of Council, and an online public engagement component through Engage Ottawa. . 

    Who led the review?

    The consultant team consists of:

    • Beate Bowron, Beate Bowron Etcetera (Project Manager and responsible for the public consultation process)
    • Dr. Gary Davidson, The Davidson Group (Responsible for ward boundary re- alignment options and final recommendations)
    • Russell Mathew and Patrick Barbieri, Hemson Consulting Ltd. (Responsible for population projections)

    Members of the consultant team are familiar with Ottawa and have extensive experience in conducting ward boundary reviews.

    What happened after Council enacted the by-law to establish new ward boundaries?

    After City Council’s enactment of By-law No. 2021-3, there was a 45-day period in which notices of appeal for the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) – setting out the objections to the by-law and the reasons in support of the objections – could be filed with the City. In accordance with requirements under the Municipal Act, 2001, the City provided public notice on January 28, 2021, specifying the last date for filing a notice of appeal as March 15, 2021.

    Two notices of appeal were received during the appeal period. Within 15 calendar days after the last day for filing a notice of appeal (i.e. by March 30, 2021), the City is required to forward any notices of appeal to the LPAT. The City is also required to provide any other information or material that the LPAT requires in connection with the appeal.

    What are the anticipated next steps regarding the notices of appeal?

    Subsection 222(7) of the Municipal Act, 2001 provides that the LPAT “shall hear the appeal and may, despite any Act, make an order affirming, amending or repealing the by-law.”

    Provided that any decision made by the LPAT occurs before January 1, 2022, it is anticipated that the new ward boundaries would be in effect for the October 2022 Municipal Elections. If the LPAT decision occurs after January 1, 2022 (and does not repeal the by-law), any new ward boundaries would come into force for the 2026 Municipal Elections.

    A decision by the LPAT is subject to appeal, with leave of the Court, to Divisional Court. Provided that the LPAT has issued an order before January 1, 2022, it would continue to be possible for the new ward boundaries to come into effect if leave to appeal is not granted or the appeal is dismissed.

    When would any new ward boundaries come into effect?

    Subject to the information above, it is anticipated that any changes to ward boundaries would be effective November 15, 2022, and will serve as the basis for the next municipal election, to be held on October 24, 2022.

    Is this going to affect the school board elections?

    School board electoral areas (zones) are composed of one or more municipal wards. Therefore, changes to the ward boundaries could affect the school boards’ electoral boundaries. Any new boundaries would be established by the school boards.

    Where can I find a map of the current Ottawa wards and their populations?