The redrafting of Ontario’s electoral map could divide the Church-Wellesley Village among two ridings. The community is likewise divided over whether this is a good idea or not.
It’s Thursday morning and the third floor of Metro Hall feels like a courthouse. In a long room at the west end of the building, a court stenographer is at the ready, and a microphone set to record rests on a collapsible table. Justice George Valin sits at the front of the room, facing a congregation of Toronto citizens and politicians. He reads their names off a list one by one (there are upwards of 80 in total), as if calling witnesses to the stand. When it’s finally their turn at the podium, they reference documents and maps like evidence exhibits, pleading their case and attempting to sway the trial’s verdict on a most contentious issue: where to draw the City of Toronto’s new electoral-riding boundaries.
Buried deep in that list of names is John Goyeau, a representative of the Toronto Centre NDP Association who is no stranger to the process of electoral redistribution: He’s witnessed similar scenes on four separate occasions over the past 40 years. The 2012 redraft, the latest decennial revision to accommodate population growth, has left the country with 30 new federal ridings and many more in flux. And depending on who you talk to, one of those revisions could dilute—or strengthen—the political voice of the Church-Wellesley Village, the longtime hub of Toronto’s LGBT community.
The changes, proposed in August by Valin and the other two members of Ontario’s electoral-boundaries commission, would split the Village into two ridings along Wellesley Street. The southern half would remain within the existing Toronto Centre; the northern portion would join the newly created Mount Pleasant riding. Provincial ridings and municipal wards are expected to adopt these new boundaries as well.
Click here for a close-up view of this map of proposed Toronto ridings
Goyeau and a handful of others at the hearing are determined to keep the Village in a single riding. He contends that the split, which would give the area two different political representatives instead of just one, would make it harder for the neighbourhood to find a devoted champion for its causes. But making that change isn’t as easy as simply moving the boundary north.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” Goyeau says of the redistribution process. “When you push in one particular place, there’s a bulge in another.” Under the proposed boundaries, each of the newly defined ridings would have a population of about 100,000, just shy of the province’s ideal average of 106,000. Removing the territory north of Wellesley from Mount Pleasant and leaving it within Toronto Centre would upset the population balance, likely necessitating another boundary adjustment elsewhere.
Matthew Guerin, a screenwriter and producer who’s lived both in and around the Village, is also opposed to dividing the community between two ridings.
“It’s easy to think that little sliver [between Wellesley and Bloor] would be pretty much drowned out by the voting habits of those north of Bloor,” says Guerin, who believes that northern Mount Pleasant residents typically vote more conservatively. Guerin says that the area in question has more in common with Toronto Centre and that, symbolically, the split is “odd.”
But not everyone is convinced that the proposed change is a negative one, including the riding’s former MPP and 2010 mayoral candidate George Smitherman. “I had the same first reaction—I was quite emotional about it,” says Smitherman, who still considers the Village—where he once lived and operated a business—his home neighbourhood. Upon further consideration, he realized the new boundaries could offer the area greater attention and representation.
“The neighbourhood association would suddenly have two different representatives, possibly from two different political parties, that could advocate and lobby on issues that matter to them.”
Smitherman says the Wellesley Street split wouldn’t necessarily be as divisive as some fear because Toronto’s LGBT population is less concentrated in the Village than it once was.
“The gay community can find itself without a street corner,” he says.
Back at Metro Hall, however, that corner has garnered a fair amount of attention. Goyeau’s name is finally called, and he rises to make his appeal. He’s backed by a handful of others, including Toronto Centre-Rosedale Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. On the wall to their right hangs an oversized map of Toronto, sectioned into clearly marked city wards. Come the next federal election in 2015, that map will be obsolete and replaced with a new one—whether the Village is in one riding or not.