Ward Imbalance Underrepresents Less Affluent Residents in Hamilton

by John Neary

“While much of the commentary over Hamilton’s ward representation focuses on the urban/suburban split, the more glaring imbalance is in representation by income.”

Much of the recent commentary on the large differences in population between Hamilton wards – or, to put it differently, the large differences in voter representation – has once again focused on the “urban vs. suburban/rural” narrative.

This focus is a shame for several reasons, the first of which is that these divides aren’t as clear as we often think.

Is Ward 13 (Dundas) “suburban”? It’s called the “Valley Town”, not the “Valley Suburb”.

Is Ward 1 “urban” (Strathcona and Kirkendall) or suburban (West Hamilton to the Ancaster border)?

How about Ward 7, which stretches from the mountain brow all the way past Rymal Road?

More importantly, however, this narrative is unhelpful because it distracts from how the current ward system underrepresents our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

Here’s a graph of City Council representation per resident versus average resident income in dollars.

Chart: City Council Representation per Resident by Income
Chart: City Council Representation per Resident by Income

The y-axis on this graph is scaled so that the line of best fit (not shown) has an intercept of 1. The slope of the graph is 1/61,333. The interpretation, in plain English, is that if a (fictitious) ward whose residents have no income would have a certain level of representation on City Council, then a ward whose residents earned $61,333 would tend to have twice the representation per capita, a ward whose residents earned $122,666 would tend to have three times the representation, and so on. (The r-squared value is 0.25, for those who care.)

In other words, you get one vote for Council just for being alive, and another vote for each sixty thousand dollars you (and your neighbours) earn.

While it may be true that “no destiny-altering votes have taken place because of imbalances in our ward representation” during the current term of council, the HSR fare increase in 2010 split almost exactly on rich-poor lines, with the representatives of 200,000 people (plus then-mayor Fred Eisenberger) prevailing over the representatives of 290,000 people.

Rules that systematically ignore the voices of less affluent residents have no place in the twenty-first century. Hell, they had no place in the twentieth century. It is long, long overdue – but not too late – to insist upon equal representation for all Hamiltonians on our city council.

Update: The chart has been updated to include a trendline.

*note: John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession. His article first appeared here on Raise the Hammer.

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