The Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) has ruled that La Nation must add two more wards and two more councillors beginning with the 2022 municipal election. The decision by OLT member Nicholas Robinson follows a hearing held on August 10.
On September 28, 2020, council approved maintaining four wards, but with changes to their boundaries to reflect population changes. Some residents of Limoges, and Ward 4 Councillor Francis Brière, disagreed with the decision and preferred the alternative option, which was to add two wards and councillors to match. Residents Dave Mushing and Philippe Warren appealed council’s decision to the OLT.
According the OLT decision, the two recommendations presented to council resulted from studies performed by Watson and Associates and municipal government expert Dr. Robert Williams, which initially established five options for possible ward configurations. Public consultations on those options were held on February 4 and 5, 2020.
The OLT decision notes no public consultations were held by the municipality involving the final two recommendations, which was not required under the Municipal Act. For the meetings which were held about the initial five options, residents were notified by mail. For the final two options, notification was only published on the municipal website.
The tribunal discovered that Chief Administrative Officer Josée Brizard and Mayor François St-Amour were each surprised by Williams also suggesting the six-ward option. Therefore, the tribunal did not believe Williams was restricted towards recommending La Nation remain having four wards.
Five guiding principles were to be used in the ward boundary review process and were based on a previous electoral boundary case heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The principles are representation by population, population and electoral trends, representation of communities of interest (Limoges), geographical and topographical features, and effective representation.
The tribunal ruled council’s decision to remain with four wards was unreasonable and unfair because it failed to reasonably meet those five principles, because the option selected by council does not have population parity among the wards, it does not appropriately stray from parity for the community of interest, it does not address voter parity between wards, and it dilutes the Limoges community’s voice by keeping it entirely within a single ward.
Under the six-ward plan, Limoges will be in two wards, composed of both urban and rural areas. The OLT found that council’s decision diverged from the overriding principle of voter equity and effective representation.
The final order of the tribunal is for the municipality to adopt the six-ward structure.
“We are pleased with the tribunal’s decision,” said Mushing in a short statement.
St-Amour defended the decision originally made by council, but said the municipality will comply with the OLT decision.
“Relying on the work done by experts, I strongly believe that the members of Council acted in good faith by selecting Option One. We will comply with the order issued by the Ontario Land Tribunal and implement Option Two, the six-ward system. The changes will take effect for the next municipal elections in 2022,” he said in a statement issued by the municipality.
Once a written decision has been made by the OLT, a party may request a review of the decision under Rule 25 of the tribunal’s Rules of Practice and Procedure. In some cases, OLT decisions may be appealed to Divisional Court, but only on a question of law. Appeals to Divisional court of OLT decisions must be examined before permission given for them to proceed.