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Composition of council on the table

Regional council takes first step in changing makeup

Regional headquarters

The composition of regional council may soon be changing after the body voted to create a committee that will look at how many seats each municipality should have. Ajax Mayor Steve Parish says the composition should be based on population, while Oshawa Mayor John Henry voiced support for “representation by taxation,” citing what the city contributes to the region’s overall economy.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Regional council is set to get a makeover.

At its latest meeting, Durham’s council voted to create a special committee that will be looking at the composition of the regional body.

The committee will be comprised of 15 members, including one from each of the region’s municipalities. Councillor Bob Chapman will be the face of Oshawa for the committee.

The committee will also feature Regional Chair Roger Anderson and representatives from the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, Durham College, Trent University’s Durham campus and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

The committee aims to issue its report no later than March of 2016.

In order to have the composition of regional council changed in time for the 2018 election, council would need to complete its process through the Municipal Act by the end of 2017.

Ajax mayor Steve Parish, who has spoken in the past on more seats going from Oshawa to the growing municipalities of Ajax, Whitby and Pickering, has not changed his stance.

“Since 1840 in this province, representation by population has been the principle by how we govern,” he said in front of regional council. “To say the basic principle is not population is simply wrong and contrary to the law of the land.”

According to 2011 census numbers, eight Oshawa regional councillors represent 149,607 people – or approximately one councillor per 18,700 people. In Ajax, three regional councillors represent 109,600 – or approximately one councillor per 36,533 people, making it the most underrepresented municipality in the region.

Oshawa mayor John Henry said the city contributes to the region’s overall economy through measures that only the city pays for, citing the airport as an example.

“Taxation by population is one thing, but representation by taxation is another,” he said. “And unless you’re willing to put all the items together into one bundle and say fair is fair, then that’s the discussion that has to take place.”

This will be the third time regional council will see its composition changed – the other times being in 1989 when it grew to 32 councillors from 30, and in 1997 when it shrunk to 28 members.

Parish says he would like to see the decades-long wait in between council readjustments taken away.

“Obviously, this is something that many of us, and certainly from the town of Ajax, have been wishing to come forward for quite some period of time. I cannot and will not at this time prejudge what will come out of this committee, nor is it appropriate to do so, but it’s been 20 years since this council dealt with its composition. And before that, it was a long time before that,” he said. “I think I would like to see this committee come forward and say, ‘Look, this is always a delicate situation, it’s always a very political situation, but we think this should be done, for example, every three council terms. Provincial or federal do it every 10.”