If we're really serious about addressing poverty in our community - as 97% of candidates professed to be - perhaps we should start by extending an equal voting franchise to rich and poor alike.
By John Neary
Published October 29, 2010
When the new city of Hamilton was created out of the old Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, each of the constituent municipalities was given at least one seat on council. (The old city of Hamilton received eight; Stoney Creek and Flamborough two each; Glanbrook, Ancaster, and Dundas one each.)
This distribution of seats was chosen to mollify suburban and rural residents who didn't want to have anything to do with amalgamation. Overrepresenting each of the smaller municipalities made amalgamation somewhat more palatable to them.
In the long run, it also led to votes like this one to increase HSR fares, in which eight councillors (plus the mayor) representing 199,676 residents triumphed over seven councillors representing 289,781 residents.
This vote was widely reported (including on RTH) as pitting the interests of urban voters against those of suburban and rural voters. Which it did.
But bus fares are also a classic example of an issue that pit the interests of the affluent against the interests of the less fortunate.
Quite simply, people with money pay taxes (including to fund the HSR) but don't ride the bus much, and people with little money pay fewer taxes but tend to ride the bus more. So the affluent are interested in keeping taxes down (and, therefore, fares up) while the poor are interested in the opposite.
The vote on the HSR fare increase split on urban/nonurban lines, yes. But it also split on rich/poor lines. (Which is unsurprising: it's hard to live in the country if you can't afford a car.)
The five councillors representing our poorest wards voted against the increase. The six councillors representing our richest wards voted for it. The other four councillors were split. The interests of 200,000 people prevailed over the interests of 290,000.
Here's a list of Hamilton's wards, organized in ascending order of average household income. (Data are from the Hamilton Spectator's election guide from the October 23 print edition.)
Eight of our nine poorest wards have a population over 30,000. Five of our six richest wards have a population under 30,000. Our nine poorest wards have an average of 40,000 residents; our six richest have an average of 25,000.
Our largest ward (number 7, on the central Mountain) is almost four times the population of our smallest (number 15, in
Dunwich east Flamborough).
If we're really serious about addressing poverty in our community - as 97% of candidates professed to be - perhaps we should start by extending an equal franchise to rich and poor alike.
You know, like they started to work towards in England in 1832.
Doing so would not require reducing the number of councillors representing richer neighbourhoods. If we decided that each councillor should represent about 25,000 people, we could keep the richer wards as they are, and add five new poorer wards.
The simplest way to do so would be to split each of three adjacent pairs of wards (1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6) into three parts, and split the largest two wards (7 and 8) into two parts apiece.
Each of the resulting wards would then have between 22,000 and 30,000 residents, with an average of 26,000.
It's impossible to know who would have been elected under this system, but the second-place finishers in those wards (or pairs of wards) were Tony Greco, Paul Tetley, Chris Behrens, Trevor Pettit, and Kim Jenkinson.
If we don't relish the idea of a 21-member council, we could reduce the number of seats from 15 to 14 if we split wards 7 and 8 into three 36,000-person wards, combined wards 9, 10, and 11 (Stoney Creek and Glanbrook) into two 39,000-person wards, and combined wards 13, 14, and 15 (Dundas and Flamborough) into two 33,000-person wards.
This reorganization, like the previous, would lead to a much more equitable distribution of seats.
Or we could continue with our current system, in which poor neighbourhoods elect fewer representatives than their proportionate share, and our representatives talk about poverty but focus on building a stadium and an aerotropolis to serve the interests of the rich - who are not just their donors, but their electors as well.
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