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Anxiety over ward review

Councillors push staff into speeding up the process, will now be sole-sourcing review consultant

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

A few missteps could spell the end of a ward system for Oshawa in the next election.

For that reason, Oshawa councillors are looking to take advantage of every week they have before a final decision is made due to the fact that in order for the wards to be in place for the 2018 election, a new system must be approved prior to the end of 2017.

A recent report had several councillors reading between the lines and finding that staff were, indeed, quite nervous about the process.

At the latest meeting of the corporate services committee, Councillor Nancy Diamond said she was concerned with the “level of anxiety” in the report connected to the composition review currently ongoing at the Region of Durham and how it impacted Oshawa’s ability to switch back to the ward system.

And that was not the sole concern.

Originally, staff slated approximately eight months to complete the ward boundary review, with a final approval of new wards slated for June 2017.

However, after committee squashed that timeline and recommended staff come back with a new one, councillors received an updated version at its meeting on Monday that saw staff single-sourcing the contract for the consultant who will be completing the review and pulling the completion date back to February 2017.

This allows for more time if any appeals or issues arise with the proposed boundaries.

“By doing what we’ve done, it takes the pressure off and advances it for us,” Mayor John Henry says.

Under the new timeline, staff will spend the end of July finalizing the negotiations with the chosen consultant, with a contract slated to be issued in August.

Commencement of the review is planned for September, with approval during a special council meeting. Following that, community engagement will begin – a process that is set to last two months.

A preliminary report would come back to council in December, after which a second round of community engagement would beginand last into January prior to the final report being delivered in February

Several potential wrenches are looming that could clog the municipal gears.

The first being however long it takes for the lower tier municipalities to approve the regional composition bylaw. Currently, that bylaw is sitting with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing until June 30, after which a decision will be made on whether the region can move forward with approval.

That process is set to begin in September, with the region allowing municipalities until December to make their own decisions.

“Every week in the beginning that is spent making the decision…is another week we lose at the end,” says City Clerk Sandra Kranc.

The second, and much scarier risk from a staff perspective is an appeal of the eventual new ward system with the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

Citizens have 45 days to appeal the proposed new ward system if they believe it is unfair or the designated wards do not fairly represent the population.

In a situation where the implementation is delayed, council has two options: they can revert back to the previous seven-ward system approved under a previous bylaw, or remain with the at-large system.

However, with Oshawa set to lose two regional councillors, the seven-ward system would mean two wards are without regional representation.

“It is preposterous to me that there would be a potential of going back to the 2005 boundaries with seven wards where we know it’s going to be five,” Diamond said.