Knowing where to draw the line is the best description of a case before the Ontario Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), which is reviewing municipal ward boundaries in La Nation.
On August 10, legal counsel representing the municipality and citizens made their arguments for and against a decision made by council on June 23, 2020, to retain four wards with one councillor from each, plus the mayor, but with modified boundaries to address population growth in Limoges and the surrounding southwestern area of the municipality. Council’s other option had been to add two new wards. A ward boundary would have bisected Limoges and the village would have been represented by two councillors from different wards.
Residents David Mushing and Philippe Warren are the official appellants in the case, but they are supported by several other citizens. Current Ward 4 Councillor Francis Brière was the only councillor to vote against maintaining four wards.
LPAT Chair Nicholas Robinson presided over the hearing.
During cross examination at the hearing, lawyer Greg Meeds, representing La Nation, questioned municipal Clerk-Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Josée Brizard.
“This hearing is really all about Limoges,” Meeds remarked.
Brizard described Limoges as a village with an approximate population of 4,000. Approximately 80 per cent of the village’s residents live in La Nation, with the remainder in Russell Township. Limoges is a high-growth area, due to its proximity to Highway 417 and Ottawa.
Meeds noted that the municipal ward boundary review process began in 2019 and a group of citizens had first requested the review in 2015.
Brizard outlined the process of consultations and questionnaires and options. The consultation process included online publication of reports and community meetings.
Lawyer Michele Cicchino represented Mushing and Warren. Ciccino cross-examined Mushing about the ward boundary review study performed by Watson and Associates and municipal government expert Dr. Robert Williams of the University of Waterloo.
Mushing told Cicchino the review process was designed to address population disparity and that the population statistics in the report are too low.
“By 2030, the population in Ward 4 could be three times higher than what is indicated.”
Meeds objected and said the review reports are the only evidence.
Cicchino asked Mushing if he thought the option chosen by council was selected to keep Limoges united in one ward.
“We already have a situation where the village straddles two municipalities,” he responded.
Mushing said he cannot understand why council chose something that did not meet the objectives of the process.
Cicchino asked questions referring to apprehension on council about adding extra wards because of the costs associated with renovating the council chamber and other administrative changes.
“None of these things mean anything to effective representation,” said Mushing.
“It seemed that council was already putting constraints and boundaries on the output of the process,” he added, noting that an option to have councillors elected at large was also removed.
While being questioned by Meeds, Dr. Williams said the Municipal Act no longer requires public meetings for ward boundary changes. The public forums held in La Nation were done as a courtesy. Williams said there is no provincial legislation or regulation of municipal ward boundaries, and decisions are based on precedent and best practices.
“There’s nothing provided by the province,” Williams noted.
Meeds asked Williams if he was instructed by council to maintain the four-ward system.
Williams said no, and that “We start with what we have.”
He told Meeds the principles followed during a ward boundary review process are not a scorecard, but are rather guidelines for balancing population and community needs.
During Cicchino’s cross examination of Williams, she also asked him if he was instructed by council to maintain four wards. Initially, Williams did not recall receiving those instructions. She played a video from the November 25 2019 council meeting, indicating he was instructed to keep the number of wards at four.
“I’ll take that as my direction,” Williams said in the video.
Cicchino again asked if he said that was his instruction.
“I’ll take that as my starting point,” Williams responded.
When Cicchino asked if the public forums were heavily skewed toward the four-ward option, Williams agreed they were.
“The goal may be parity (between wards), but making it work is an entirely different matter,” Williams said.
Lawyers representing La Nation and the appellants are submitting final, written briefs to Robinson. He has up to three months to make a decision.