Process of approving new Calgary wards is what needs an overhaul

By DJ Kelly May 27, 2009

I don’t know where to begin with my questions/issues around what transpired at last night’s Calgary City Council meeting. The whole thing is just so bizarre and unfathomable. How about with a summary of what has happened up until this point in regards to re-drawing the ward boundaries in time for the 2010 election?

  1. As outlined in previous mandates the Chief Electoral Officer for the City made a proposal for new ward boundaries as scheduled/planned. (Here’s my thoughts on them at that time.)
  2. The proposed boundaries moved Ward 10 to the north of the city – where more people live – to give a more balanced number of residents in each ward. (Currently Ward 1 has 94,000 people and Ward 3 has 90,000 people, while Ward 14 has only 58,000 and Ward 5 has 60,000.)
  3. The alderman for Ward 10, concerned about retaining his seat on council if his ward moves, cried foul and asked council to increase the number of aldermen from 14 to 16.
  4. Council said no to this proposal because no proper study had been done on its potential impacts. (Although you can see my thoughts on this issue here.)
  5. The alderman for Ward 10 began complaining to anyone who would listen. Eventually council agreed to send the issue to an Aldermanic Committee to reach a decision. (Warning bells should sound at this point.)
  6. The Aldermanic Committee instructs the Chief Electoral Officer to re-draw the boundaries while keeping 5 wards east of Deerfoot Trail. (Another warning bell sounds.)
  7. The Chief Electoral Officer makes another recommendation to council. The Alderman for Ward 10 makes a recommendation as well. (Yet another warning bell.)
  8. Council votes to turn down the Chief Electoral Officer’s recommendation so they can take a look at the proposal from the Ward 10 Alderman. (Warning bell, again.)
  9. Council votes to approve the proposal by the Alderman from Ward 10. (A BIG final warning bell.)

Does anyone remember from their Social Studies classes what this is called? It’s called gerrymandering. Something politicians SHOULD do everything in their power to avoid. However, in this case they did everything in their power to ensure it was the route selected.

As if this wasn’t enough to get me riled up, I do have a secondary issue: the hastily tabled and approved Ward reorganization is TERRIBLE. It shows no respect for natural boundaries and seems to be based only on political posturing instead of physical, on the ground, relationships.

An example: My community sits above Deerfoot Trail. I live five blocks from Centre Street. If this approved map goes forward my bus stop is no longer in my ward. But the city limits – over nine kilometres away on the other side of Deerfoot and Barlow and 36 Street and 52 Street and 68 Street – are. It makes no sense to me how our neighbours, who we share so much in common with, are in a different ward, while communities like Forest Lawn, that no one in Winston Heights would even DREAM of walking to if they wanted, are grouped together. The issues each of these communities are looking for their alderman to deal with are completely different. So why lump them together?

This was the major issue we were looking to have fixed by the redrawing of ward boundaries. Currently we are in Ward 9, which makes equally little sense. Any glance at a map and you’ll notice we should be in Ward 7. The new map once again ignores the physical realities of the real world (like the fact there isn’t even a sidewalk connecting Winston Heights/Mountview to the east side of Deerfoot) in favour of political trading.

Seriously. Ald. Farrell and Hawksworth were actually trading communities. How is this helpful? How is this not gerrymandering? How is this not wrong?!

But, I’m not just blustering here – although I’ll forgive you if you think so.

Instead I’m speeding up a project I’ve been working on. A project that may offer potential solutions to the problem Calgary is currently face with. More on that early next week.

In the meantime I ask that council slow down and consider their actions. These aren’t chess pieces. They are real people. These decisions affect more than just the 15 of you. It’s time to open the process up and take yourselves out of it.

UPDATE: I made a minor error about the number of people living in each Ward in this post. It has been corrected now. Here is the full population breakdown of each Ward according to the 2007 Civic Census:

Ward 1 94,281
Ward 2 76,749
Ward 3 90,987
Ward 4 73,207
Ward 5 60,434
Ward 6 80,688
Ward 7 67,294
Ward 8 71,259
Ward 9 78,103
Ward 10 68,139
Ward 11 68,841
Ward 12 86,698
Ward 13 80,054
Ward 14 58,801

UPDATE 2: I just wanted to clarify I’m not slagging Forest Lawn in this post by singling them out as someone accused me of. (Why do so many people assume if Forest Lawn is mentioned by name it must be a slight?) I used them as my example because they are the largest community in the new proposed ward on the east side. The fact of it is: they have very different community concerns than Winston Heights/Mountview, which shares more concerns in common with Tuxedo Park or Renfrew – who are not in the proposed ward. The other half of the comment is about it being so far away from Centre Street. If you were heading to Forest Lawn from Winston Heights only a crazy person would dream of walking. It’s so far way you pretty much have to take a car. So there you go, no offense intended. Apologies if you read it that way.