Municipal Election 2014

Bob Bratina's Amalgamation Fascination

Hamilton has a lot to talk about between now and Election Day. Re-fighting old battles is just a distraction.

By Zachary Spicer
Published January 30, 2014

Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina is concerned about suburban representation on council and took the time to address the issue in a blog post.

Bratina claims that examining the city's ward boundaries is a looming problem for the city. This review, Bratina argues, "will once again create problems in the relationship between the old city and the amalgamated suburban areas".

This challenge emerges from the fact that there is now a balance between wards 1 through 8, which are formed from the old City of Hamilton, and wards 9 through 15, which are formed from the remaining former lower-tier municipalities in the Region of Hamilton-Wentworth.

Below is some demographic information on the wards as they stood immediately after amalgamation in 2001:

Population by Ward
Ward Voters Residents
1 21,215 31,704
2 19,786 38,349
3 23,913 40,869
4 23,322 36,733
5 24,937 39,283
6 27,699 40,529
7 38,478 56,334
8 32,996 46,509
Central City Total 212,346 310,400
9 18,202 24,349
10 19,112 24,569
11 19,488 20,544
12 22,130 25,297
13 17,994 24,394
14 11,682 15,322
15 17,445 24,662
Amalgamated Total 126,053 159,137
Total 338,399 469,537

Bratina claims that there are 8 votes on "the old side" and 7 on "the new", with the mayor rounding out the total to 16. Getting a motion passed requires the approval of at least 9 councillors.

To Bratina, amalgamation figures prominently into this equation: "if Council is split between the old city representatives and the amalgamated areas, the mayor can give the 9th and deciding vote to pass the motion, or give the 8th vote to the others which would mean the motion loses on a tie".

Amalgamation and Council Voting Patterns

There is research to support Bratina's notion that amalgamation is still a salient factor in council decision-making. Oddly enough, it's mine.

A few years ago, I set out to test the impact of consolidation on council voting patterns. Hamilton seemed like a good test case, so I conducted some factor analysis on council voting trends for the councils from 2001-2003, 2003-2006 and 2006-2010.

Sure enough, amalgamation proved decisive. I wrote up the results for the Canadian Journal of Urban Research. The Spectator also found some interest in my results and wrote about them here and here.

I concluded that councillors from "amalgamated" wards were more likely to vote together. Long story short, amalgamation still had a lingering impact, but the strength of this divide was dissipating.

What should we make of this? Do we try to balance the wards? Should we press the panic button and raise the alarms? The answer is no.

Appealing Ward Boundaries

Most cities are now feeling the impact of ward boundaries designed in the wake of amalgamation. When it became clear that restructuring would occur, many municipalities had to quickly design amalgamation plans, figure out staffing, prepare budgets, and consolidate assets and workforces.

Needless to say, the amount of work that goes into building a new city is daunting.

When it came time to design ward boundaries, former municipal boundaries were generally used. This was done for two reasons.

First, the issue of amalgamation was emotional. Keeping the old municipal boundaries provided some comfort to those in suburban and rural areas that there was still something left of their communities. It also provided some assurance that they would have a direct voice on the new council.

Second, it was simply easier. There were natural boundaries already in place so examining alternatives seemed unnecessary.

Amalgamation Cleavage Entrenched

There are some problems with this approach, however. Wards created along the boundaries of the old regional government entrench amalgamation as a cleavage. Over time, populations grow and disperse and the old boundaries stop making sense.

Dozens of municipalities across the province have examined the continued benefit of using these post-amalgamation boundaries. Toronto is beginning the process as we speak.

It makes sense for Hamilton to do the same. From the table above, you can see that the disparity in constituents is striking. Re-adjusting these boundaries to account for representation makes sense. Examining a city's governance periodically is healthy.

Bratina's blog post is just the most recent demonstration of his fascination with amalgamation. With the suburbs handing Bratina a decisive victory in 2010, it is not hard to imagine why he's pursuing such a strategy. Politically it makes sense, but it distracts from other issues in the campaign.

Hamilton has a lot to talk about between now and Election Day. Re-fighting old battles is just a distraction.

Zachary Spicer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Brock University. He lives in Hamilton and golfs regularly (but is still pretty bad at it). You can follow him on twitter @ZacSpicer.


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By It Just Is (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:40:04

Never mind the fact that there are requirements for the ratio of population between the most and least population density.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 11:14:08

Even as a suburbanite, the fact that a Ward 3 vote is equal to a Ward 14 vote seems mighty amiss. If Bratina has overlooked this glaring suburban over-representation, I can only conclude that he can't count.

And you can pepper in 2 or 3 other wards with the same situation. If I lived in the old city, I'd be raging about this.

Comment edited by slodrive on 2014-01-30 11:14:25

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 11:54:20 in reply to Comment 97275

I don't have a problem with rural voters having more representation than urban voters. They have very different, specific needs to be addressed, and the city benefits from a healthy, viable rural community. We would all lose if rural concerns were lost in the shuffle due to their smaller numbers.

However, that's not what's happening here. Not only are the levels of representation absurdly disproportionate, but we have lost sight of the fact that more and more of the amalgamated suburbs are just as urbanized as the old city. It is patently unfair for voters to be disenfranchised just because they live on the wrong side of Rymal Rd.

Comment edited by highwater on 2014-01-30 11:55:51

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2014 at 17:45:42 in reply to Comment 97281

Ward 11 (the "right" side of Rymal as you put it) has a population of 37,000, which is actually above the average for Hamilton, by virtue of the fact that it includes East Stoney Creek and Winona (it's a really huge and funny-shaped ward) and the terrifyingly-fast-growing Binbrook. So it's not really a good example of a "extra representation rural vote". Those Ward 11 farmers have less of a voice on Council than you or I, actually.

The under-30K wards are, in order of lowest to highest, 14 (Flamborough), 15 (Waterdown), 10 (Stoney Creek), 13 (Dundas), 9 (East Mountain), and 1 (us).

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2014-01-30 17:55:12

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 18:29:58 in reply to Comment 97299

I was thinking of wards 6, 7, and 8. Admittedly I fudged on Rymal as the boundary for those wards is slightly south of it.

Comment edited by highwater on 2014-01-30 18:30:16

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By It Just Is (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 11:18:42 in reply to Comment 97275

And yet if you go back to the June 25th, 2012 Council meeting when they accepted the citizen delegation proposing ward boundary review and reform, as well as the media coverage leading up to it, I believe you'll find that some of the most ardent opponents were Wards 6, 7 & 8 councillors. Go figure.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2014 at 11:34:21

What's the actual Provincial guideline for the population of a ward?

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By It Just Is (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 12:18:17

Still trying to find the OMB references, and can't post URLs, but if you Google 'Tay' 'ward boundary review' and 'Here’s what you need to know about ward boundaries and the OMB', you'll get some insight.

Bottom line is that there's supposed no more than a 25% difference between most populated and least populated.

Meaning that Hamilton is well overdue for ward boundary review.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 30, 2014 at 15:48:47 in reply to Comment 97282

I looked around and it looks like the actual difference is 25% from average. I took that to mean the upper-bound is 125% and the lower-bound is 75%.

Here's the 2011 census numbers:

Average population is 34,663

By the 2011 census numbers, the wards 7 and 8 are above the limit, wards 10, 13, 14, and 15 are all below, and wards 1 and 9 are close-ish to the low end limit.

Assuming we created a "ward 7.5" that turns Wards 7 and 8 into 3 wards? We have an average of 32,497.

With that average, wards 10, 14 and 15 are still low, and ward 13 is incredibly close to the limit.

So creating a new Mountain ward is not sufficient to fix the problem. Either the borders of the "newer" wards have to expand and eat some of the territory of the "old Hamilton" wards, or one of the "new" wards has to go away and they must be adjusted among themselves.

Data below.

edit: RTH markdown doesn't like the pipe-delimited table I thought it would like. Data here:

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2014-01-30 15:50:57

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 18:24:46

I'm not sure bringing something up once every 4 years at election time really counts as a 'fascination'.

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By It Just Is (anonymous) | Posted January 30, 2014 at 20:37:32 in reply to Comment 97301

You're right. It's not a 'fascination'. The Mayor seems to have an obsession. Shame, really; if we'd actually examined the topic once and for all (I don't believe that it's as contentious an issue as some believe it to be), then this spectre wouldn't keep re-visiting us. But I don't think that this avoidance runs contrary to the city's longstanding habits. Where's a good leader when you need them?

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted February 01, 2014 at 12:43:00

Trim Wards 6, 7 and 8, make the Rymal hangnail of those wards part of ward 11. Heck if you have to go as far as Stone Church. That should slightly expand Ward 11 and slightly reduce the mountain Wards.

Now with a larger Ward 11, expand Ward 10 to Townline Rd, making one bellow the mountain ward there.

Shuffle more of Ward 9 into Ward 6 and shuffle Sherman from Ward 7 into 6 until you balance that population.

Shuffle Ward 8 into Ward 12 at Upper Paradise.

Shuffle Ward 13 to encompass the entire Dundas Valley.

Accept that the other Wards there no good way of resolving without either taking over Aldershot and adding it to Ward 15 and/or releasing Ward 14 to it's own devices.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted February 03, 2014 at 19:18:18

It was those in the suburbs, who voted for the Harris government that seen their plan to fruition. These areas still vote for the same old crap, over and over again and nothing changes for the better, it only gets worse. People need to look at things in a bigger picture, stop looking at issues and start looking at the larger forces shaping things. Too bad too many do not wish to leave their zones and believe the propaganda told to them.

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