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West Carleton | Goulbourn | Rideau | Osgoode | Cumberland

Ottawa Rural


On January 1, 2001 amendments to the City of Ottawa Act amalgamated all eleven municipalities which previously formed the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, creating one-tier government for Ottawa. Five of these municipalities were the former townships of West Carleton, Goulbourn, Rideau, Osgoode and Cumberland. Prior to amalgamation each of these municipalities were represented by their own Mayor and municipal council. As a result of the amalgamation each of the wards of the former Region became new wards in the new City, accordingly five of the new wards replaced the former townships. On July 24, 2002 the City passed a by-law changing the ward structure. The by-law reduced the number of rural wards from five to four by combining Goulbourn with Rideau. It also expanded the areas of Osgoode and West Carleton by attaching significant urban growth areas to each of these wards.

Community Associations quickly formed in Osgoode, Rideau, and West Carleton and appealed the by-law to The Ontario Municipal Board.

On October 17, 2002 the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing appeared before the Ontario Municipal Board to file a Notice of Deferral, which caused the Board to stay the proceedings indefinitely. Material subsequently filed by the minister lists the following reasons for his intervention:

  • "The City of Ottawa is still in its infancy. It is too early to determine (less than one full term of office) how well the ward system is working."

  • "The existing wards took into account the boundaries of the rural communities that existed prior to the establishment of the new City of Ottawa to ensure the opinions of these communities would be heard at city council. Alterations of these boundaries may reduce the ability of these distinct communities to be heard at city council."

  • "Adding urban or suburban electors to the existing rural wards may have the effect of reducing the number of rural voices and viewpoints at city council."

  • "There is a need for further evaluation of the manner in which rural areas are represented on municipal council."



On November 12, 2002 the City argued a motion asking the Board to ignore the Minister's direction and continue with the hearing. The Board dismissed the City's request. The City maintains that the Minister did not have the authority to stop the proceedings and will be asking the Divisional Court to review the Minister's authority in early December 2002. The associations estimate that the legal costs to the city for this court challenge will range between $100,000 and $300,000.

City Process:

The associations have obtained documents from City files pertaining to the City's activities leading to the passing of the by-law.

Within six months of amalgamation, City staff began to prepare a work plan that would lead to the reorganization of the municipal ward boundaries in time for the next municipal election to be held in November 2003. On June 13, 2001 City Council directed staff to prepare a report that would outline and recommend a process for changing the ward boundaries. On July 11, 2001 City Council directed staff to proceed to implement this report. On July 18, 2001 a preliminary meeting of city staff appointed to deal with this matter was held. Minutes of that meeting described the need to "use extensive consultation to try to minimize appeals and show an open process". The document also suggests five public meetings be held across the city and "actual draft ward scenarios-more detailed program of public meetings". The document identifies potential members of what would become the Citizen's Task Force. It does not make any reference to the qualifications of any of these individuals. No document produced by the city discusses the criteria to be used in selecting what would later be described as an independent task force. However, the Task Force mandate as described in a City document date August 29, 2001 would be "liaising with members of council, Boards of Education, citizens of Ottawa, Community Associations and special interest groups, ...coordinating the public consultation process ...and preparing a report to the Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee, and Council detailing recommended ward boundary options".

Council's direction also required staff and the Task Force to recognize that geography plays a major role in serving the public, and therefore recommended that permitted population variations within a ward could range from 25,000 to 50,000 residents. Council further directed the Task Force to "preserve neighborhoods and communities of interest". Contrary to the professional recommendation of City staff as presented to Council, minutes of a Task Force meeting on December 11, 2001 includes the following notation: "Consultation Strategy - Task Force again noted that it did not wish to issue one or more draft options for ward boundaries due to a concern that these could then become targets for debate, rather than helping to generate interest in the possible revised configuration".

The City published a brochure extensively distributed to the public during the Task Force consultation process entitled Striking a Balance. A portion of the brochure entitled YOUR VIEWS ARE IMPORTANT invites the public to "tell us if or how these boundaries could be changed in order to serve you." However at no time did the Task Force advise the public that their options or suggestions would be excluded from the Task Force report to be presented to council.

The Ontario Municipal Act requires Council of a city to hold at least one public meeting prior to the passing of a by-law to amend its ward boundaries. It may however delegate this responsibility to a committee, provided that the committee accurately summarizes the evidence it received during the meeting process in its report to Council. Ward boundary options and other material evidence presented to the Task Force by the public was not incorporated into the Task Force report dated June 10, 2002.

The Report

Within one week of its publication, the Task Force report was presented to Corporate Services and Economic Development Committee. An announcement that this report would be tabled was never advertised by the City in any rural community newspaper. Rural councilors who attended the committee meeting on June 18, 2002 expressed concern that the content of the report had received no opportunity for public input and therefore put forth a motion to differ the consideration of the report for one month. The motion was defeated by a majority of committee members representing urban wards. The committee also heard objections from residents of an urban ward (River Ward), who complained that the new proposed ward for their area would divide an established community association. Their concerns were subsequently addressed by a change to the applicable board boundary. All complaints from rural spokes persons were ignored. On July 24, 2002 Council enacted by-law 2002-316 having again rejected motions to allow public consultation on the contents of the Task Force report.

The new ward structure created wards that range in size from 652 hectares (2.5 sq. miles) to 78,000 hectares (301 sq. miles). The amalgamation of Rideau and Goulbourn wards creates a ward with the second largest area and projected population of any new ward. Ward 5 (formerly West Carleton) and Ward 20 (formerly Osgoode) were amended by adding significant urban population to each. Accordingly, traditional rural areas would now be voting with majority urban population centers in the election of their new city councilor. The opportunity to combine rural populations maintaining their rural character never became an option for consideration by Council. This option had been recommended by the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, the only standing committee charged with the responsibility for advising Council with respect to rural affairs. The Committee's advice was excluded from the report not withstanding staff recommendation that it be included.

Competing Principles

The new city composed of 5 rural wards and 16 urban wards combines densely and sparsely populated areas. The boundary structure created by the Province is consistent with the history and philosophy of Canadian democracy as enunciated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Re: Carter. The court in this leading case decided that the ideal of a "free and democratic society" is not founded upon the principle of parity of voting power. The Canadian ideal of "effective representation" which looks to factors such as geography, community, history, community interests and minority representation are more important principles for ensuring government effectively represents the diversity of our social mosaic, as ensured by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.


On October 17, 2002 the Associations, by way of a Press Release affirmed their position that fundamental issues of democratic rights should not be determined in a litigation process and once again extended an invitation to the mayor and the members of his council to discuss viable alternatives with their rural constituents.

To date we have had no response.

Last Modified: Nov. 18, 2002 | 2002 Ottawa Rural Communities