The latest census shows Brampton’s population closing in on almost 600,000 people, a 13.3 per cent increase in population. But while there are 11 members of council, which includes Mayor Linda Jeffrey, at Brampton City Hall, only seven of them get to sit on the upper tier level of government at the Region of Peel.
For many years, the issue of fair representation for the three municipalities that comprise Peel (Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga) have been debated to death. Brampton has always taken the position that all her members of council should be allowed to sit at the Region like Mississauga has had for many, many years. Recently, Mississauga has offered proposals to alleviate Brampton’s concerns but has maintained the position that Mississauga does not need more councillors (a ward boundary review in 2006 gave Mississauga two additional councillors). As for tiny little Caledon, they just wants to keep the status quo praying everybody can just get along, but the winds of change have been blowing against them.
Last week, Peel Regional Council voted not to hold a public meeting originally scheduled for April 27 to examine a proposal to increase the number of council seats from 24 members to 32 members. That would have given Mississauga 16 seats, Brampton 11 seats (Caledon would stay at five). Current Peel Regional Council consists of 12 Mississauga councillors, seven Brampton councillors, and five Caledon councillors, plus a Regional Chair that was appointed until recent provincial legislation changed the position to being an elected one in time for the 2018 municipal election.
All of Mississauga’s councillors voted against holding a public meeting, along with councillors Elaine Moore and John Sprovieri from Brampton. Mississauga Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish moved the motion which was seconded by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie. Crombie said Mississauga did not want to spend additional taxpayer dollars to add more politicians, nor were they interested in having more politicians on regional council. The mayor was quite blunt, telling everyone else that having a public meeting would be a waste of time.
While councillors like Brampton’s Michael Palleschi and Martin Medeiros, as well as Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson, argued that not having a meeting was very undemocratic and shut out the public’s right to have a consultation, Councillor Elaine Moore, one of those Brampton councillors, voted with Mississauga to not have a meeting. It was peculiar to see a Brampton representative side with Mississauga, since Brampton and Caledon lately found more common ground with each other to counter the veto Mississauga had on regional council. But Moore’s logic mirrored Crombie’s; why bother putting in the effort if Mississauga vetoing the idea was already a foregone conclusion?
Crombie preferred a model whereby seats were reallocated, keeping Mississauga with 12 seats, while giving Brampton two additional seats by taking them from Caledon. Mayor Crombie said this better reflected the principle of representation by population, but obviously Caledon has an issue with that. Caledon councillor Barb Shaughnessy said it was close-minded not to have a public meeting to at least deliberate and discuss the issue with the public. Shaughnessy also said Caledon is in a unique situation because with only five members, Caledon could never go it alone on issues like Mississauga; they would have to build consensus with either one of the bigger cities or both.
Most of the more memorable comments came from Parrish and Crombie. Parrish was very clear; she wanted the issue of regional representation dealt with locally, because if they had to send the file to Queen’s Park to come up with a solution the outcome would not be anything anybody would like. The last time the province made a change in the structure of regional government, they imposed an elected chair for Peel Region for the 2018 election, something Mississauga did not want. Parrish said eight additional councillors (which would mean an additional $2 to $4 million) was completely out of the question, although she did quip that she wouldn’t mind getting an additional councillor for Mississauga (as long as that came from splitting up her Malton Ward, which is geographically the largest ward in Mississauga).
Mayor Crombie echoed that sentiment, saying that representation by population meant that all component municipalities of Peel should be treated equally, which is why she supported taking seats away from Caledon and giving them to Brampton. But the Mayor’s tone towards Caledon was reminiscent of a mother scolding a small child who required a reminder about the basic facts of life, in this case what representation by population means. Crombie also said she wanted to spare her colleagues from facing embarrassment from a public meeting asking for more councillors; the implication there that the foregone conclusion of such a topic at a public forum would undoubtedly be overwhelmingly negative.
Mississauga councillor Jim Tovey used to analogy of being asked to go to a meeting to decide what kind of car someone wants and being told it’s going to be a blue car, no questions asked. Tovey didn’t believe the public consultation would be an actual public consultation. Brampton councillor Grant Gibson, referencing how at one point someone had mentioned Caledon based on their population should only have 1 councillor, said that was unreasonable. But Gibson did say Caledon needs to reexamine her own composition of council to see if changes are needed.
In the end, Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey said very plainly, “Caledon has 5 councillors for 60,000 people; Brampton has seven councillors for 600,000 people. The math doesn’t add up here.” So the topic of weighted voting came up as a possible solution to this whole mess. Weighted voting systems are electoral systems which use voting methods in which not all voters have the same amount of influence over the outcome of an election. Instead, it can be desirable to recognize differences by giving voters different amounts of say (mathematical weights) concerning the outcome. This is in contrast to normal parliamentary procedure, which assumes that each member’s vote carries equal weight.
So in other words, instead of using the principle of one person, one vote, this system proposes to give certain members more than one vote to recognize that they have significantly more ‘power’ in a legislative body than others. So if you were to give Brampton councillors more votes on council than they have in actual members, that would numerically close this gap in equal representation. The problem here is Canadians have been brought up to understand that in our parliamentary system of government, each elected person gets one vote. How well could one plausibly sell the idea that some politicians should have more votes than others?
All this back and forth between council and the bringing up the idea of weighted voting further validates an earlier point our sister publication Insauga made; that perhaps regional governance is no longer working and that perhaps it’s time to take Mississauga’s proposal seriously about dissolving Peel Region. Have Mississauga and Brampton operate as stand alone, single-tier municipalities and have Caledon join a more rural neighbouring county that better understands small town issues, like Dufferin County. I’m not willing to entertain this idea of a so-called ‘City of Peel’ because it only exacerbates the existing problem.
Mayor Jeffrey has been using the phrase ‘disruption’ a lot. She wants to ‘disrupt the status quo’ in Brampton. What better way to do so than by fundamentally changing Peel Region’s governing structure?
Follow me on Twitter at @thekantastic