Edward Keenan: Toronto's got your number for the municipal election
You may have heard that, just in time for the municipal election, the city has redrawn the ward boundaries in Toronto and added some new wards. City council will grow from 44 to 47 members, plus the mayor, and everyone will need to figure out which ward they now live in.
You may not have heard that, while the new ward boundaries are ready to take effect, the new ward names are not ready yet. On Tuesday, the mayor’s executive committee signed off on a plan for an advisory panel to suggest names for consideration after the election.
You know how the government likes to take its time, consult widely, do things in stages. Those who’ve been watching the elevator installation at Dupont subway station dominate the roads in the area for going on three years now will understand the pace of change the city prefers.
The upshot when it comes to wards is that if you used to live in Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park, you probably now live in plain old Ward 17. Ward 22 used to be near midtown, around Yonge and St. Clair, and was called “St. Paul’s.” The new Ward 22 is on the waterfront downtown, and you just have to remember the number.
Sometimes the old names were a puzzle to figure out. Each covered two numbered wards, and some didn’t completely correspond with the neighbourhood names people use, but at least they offered clues. If you lived in Agincourt, there was a good chance your ward was one of the two Scarborough-Agincourts; in the middle of the city, in or near Rosedale, well, Toronto Centre-Rosedale was probably your electoral district.
Now? Not so much. If you’re reading about the candidates for office in Ward 33, you have basically a one in 47 chance of guessing whether this is voting information you can use.
Applying new numbers and no names to redrawn and shuffled electoral districts is a great experiment in seeing whether people can be any more confused and underinformed about municipal politics. The result will be interesting to see. The existing level of awareness is already somewhere in the neighbourhood of a vague, hand-wavy “they’re all full of crap,” with voter turnout averaging less than 50 per cent in the past four elections.
But the lag between drawing new boundaries and giving people a recognizable name to call them by also offers an opportunity. Perhaps we can name them ourselves, with names that actually mean something to us. Landmarks, for example: what could be simpler than naming the new ward that stretches along the cliffs of the Scarborough waterfront after that obvious feature: Ward 38—Scarborough Bluffs. Simple. Ward 15—Casa Loma. Done. Same with Ward 45—Rouge Park. Easy. The new teensy ward between John and Bathurst south of Queen is obviously Ward 20—Condoland. No one is going to be confused by that.
Who needs an advisory committee? This naming stuff is easy if you stick with things people will immediately recognize and understand. Take Ward 37—We Prefer to Call it “The Beach” Even Though There are Four of Them. No one needs to guess where that might be, right? And then obviously, that new ward up north of the 401 around the 404 becomes, as any real estate agent could tell you, Ward 31—Upper Beaches.
Then there’s Ward 18—Parkdale, Ward 1—Rexdale, and Ward 36—Riverdale.
Some new areas contain more than one big landmark or neighbourhood. So there’s Ward 24—University-Cheese Magic, and Ward 22—Finance ’n’ Ferries.
You could get a bit creative, give people something they like to be known for or commemorate bits of local history. Maria Augimeri, who has long served the Downsview community, would certainly appreciate it if we all adopted the name Ward 9—Toronto’s Central Park for that former North York area. Right above that on the map, given the mostly uncharted land above Steeles that we assume to be wild and untamed, you could go with Ward 8—Gateway to Canada’s North.
The area surrounding High Park? How about Ward 17—Watch For Roaming Capybaras. Obviously the district containing Cabbagetown can be named Ward 23—Blue Isn’t Even A Heritage Colour, to sum up a sort of area manifesto and offer a reminder to any local politician looking to tolerate any fun in the neighbourhood.
The new Ward 11 should be known, for reasons that require no explanation, as “Dolores.”
Of course, not every neighbourhood has a landmark or quality for which it is so well known, which is where aspirational names may come into play. For instance, the mystifyingly long-serving Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti has lobbied so long and hard to erect North America’s tallest flagpole in the area he represents; the least the rest of us can do is refer to it as Ward 7—Future Home of Mammo’s Massive Pole. The area in central Scarborough soon to be home to one of the world’s most expensive single subway stops could be known as Ward 41—A Hole In the Ground Into Which We Pour Money.
You get the idea. Choosing a name for your new ward is likely simple — and then you can just start using it and wait for the formal naming commission to catch on and adopt it.
But in the meantime, once you’ve chosen a name, don’t forget to look up the number already assigned to you. Come election day, your name won’t matter, and we’re all just numbers to the authorities. I know, what else is new, right?