If you were a ward boundary review petition, what would you look like?

Kevin O'Donnell
2015-07-08 10:35

It is rare that citizens are explicitely empowered to stick their fingers directly into government business. In the case of ward boundaries Ontario law lets electors put an idea on a council's agenda and appeal their decision to the Ontario Municipal Board. Unfortunately there is no "how-to" guide for how to do it.

Some readers (especially in Barrhaven!) may be interested in the ward boundary petition process should Council, at its upcoming meeting, choose to keep the current boundaries for the 2018 election. See "City to keep ward boundaries unchanged, despite big population differences", Reevely, Ottawa Citizen, for context.

Section 223 of the Ontairo Municipal Act stipulates conditions for presenting a petition to council and appealing a decision to the OMB, but is silent on details for constructing the petition itself.

Collecting 500 signatures is not that difficult, but is not one afternoon of work either. If someone wanted to start a petition it would be a good idea to ask the city what requirements exist for the petition to be valid, beyond what the act says. It would be unfortunate to have a petition set aside for not adhering to some obscure rule (particularly if that was an easy way to put a hot political potato back in the dirt).

Via Ottawa's media department I asked what the process would be for presenting a petition to council, if there is a prescribed format, and what information is needed for each person who signs on (ie: address? phone? etc). The response, attributable to Leslie Donnelly (Deputy City Clerk):

"This is a process under the Municipal Act, 2001. As such, it is the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing's process and questions should be addressed to them."

Over to you, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing media department. Here is the entire question/answer chain.

1) What is the process for presenting a Section 223 petition to council?
1a) is there a prescribed format that must be followed?
1b) can the petition be electronic, or must it be a hard-copy petition with real signatures?
1c) what information must be included about each elector? (name, address?, phone#?)

The legislation does not prescribe a format for the petition.
[regurgitation of Section 223 facts omitted]
2) The petition must be from electors whose name was on the voters list in 2014.
2a) does the elector still have to be at the same address to be considered a valid entry on the petition?
2b) the legislation states "a person whose name appears on the voters' list" but does not reference any address details. This may imply address details are not required on the petition itself. Can you confirm this?

The legislation does not address these details. They are at the discretion of council and/or the Ontario Municipal Board.
3) Can the Ministry supply an example petition, to lower the chances that electors' petitions are ruled out of order by a Council?
The ministry does not have a sample petition that it can provide.

If you want to start a petition you may need to include each person's address. Or not. You may be able to do the petition electronically. Or not. You can use whatever format of petition you like. Or not. Council will exercise its discretion on these questions.

In realpolitik, these questions are probably moot for a pen and paper petition. Seven hundred real signatures is going to be a hot-potato. Woe betide the politician that turns that hot-potato into a fiery ball of plasma by ruling it out of order on a ginned-up technicality.

Saving time and doing an electronic petition is likely more risky, but the Ministry says it might be allowed by a council and the OMB. Given you can now buy a house using an electronic signature, perhaps you can sign a ward boundary review the same way?

We'll never know until someone tries. Over to you, Barrhaven. Are you happy having 2-for-1 voting power compared to the smaller rural wards in 2018?

UPDATE 1: Alex Cullen comments that filing a petition to review ward boundaries is "very doable".

UPDATE 2: City Council has chosen the "no change" option. Unless a group of electors presents a petition Ottawa's 2018 election will be held using the same boundaries as 2014/2010.

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