Burlington falls behind Oakville in seats at Halton Region

Presenting motion at Region supporting two seats for Milton.
Presenting motion at Region supporting two seats for Milton.

Burlington will have one less seat than Oakville at the Halton Regional Council table after changes to regional representation are implemented for the 2018 municipal election. Milton will get two more seats, and Oakville will get one more.

At its Nov. 12 meeting, Halton Regional Council voted 14 to 5 to expand council by two seats for Milton and one seat for Oakville, effective for the 2018 municipal election. Five of six Burlington councillors in attendance voted against the motion.

Traditionally, Burlington and Oakville have had the same number of seats based on similar size populations. All seven members of Burlington City Council also sit on Halton Regional council. Oakville has seven seats, and Milton and Halton Hills each currently have three seats, with the Regional Chair rounding out the total to 21 seats.

However, with Milton’s population already rapidly expanding – and predicted to eclipse both Burlington and Oakville – Regional council undertook a review of seat allocation.

The review follows the principle of representation by population. However there is debate about which population numbers to use: 2016 census numbers, which record actual population; or the Region’s Best Planning Estimates, which predict population based on a number of factors.

The two numbers have the potential to generate different population counts – thus skewing representation by population. It’s worth noting the federal government uses census data in adding seats; the province follows the federal government calculations.

Under Best Planning Estimates, by 2021 Oakville is projected to grow to 222,000 while Burlington is expected to grow to only 179,000. However, based on actual and anticipated development applications, Burlington is already beyond that number, and likely to grow even further beyond these estimates. The 2011 Census showed Burlington’s population had already surpassed our 2016 Best Planning Estimates, by 341 people.

All five Burlington councillors in attendance at the council meeting supported a motion from the mayor to hold off on any changes until we have accurate numbers from the 2016 census.  That motion failed 13 to 6.

There was widespread support in Burlington and the other three municipalities to add two seats for Milton, based on existing growth in Milton’s population. But Burlington, and initially Milton, did not support the extra seat for Oakville. Thus, I brought a motion to add the Milton seats without the additional Oakville seat. That motion also failed, 14 to 5.

In order to change regional representation, a triple majority is required, which means:

  • a majority of all votes on Regional Council
  • a majority (three) of the Local Municipal Councils
  • the total number of electors in the Local Municipalities must form a majority of all of the electors in the Region.

As such, Milton needed Oakville or Burlington on board to meet the triple majority requirements to get their two additional seats. Oakville council made it clear their support for Milton was tied to an extra seat for Oakville.

When Milton council originally voted on regional representation May 25, they supported two additional seats for Milton only. Three months later they changed their tune, voting August 24 to support an extra seat for Oakville as well. Halton Hills and Oakville councils had already voted in favour of two seats for Milton and one for Oakville.

By the time the vote came back to full Regional council Nov. 12, Milton had their triple majority for two extra seats, so long as they supported Oakville’s extra seat.

In terms of next steps, Halton’s request to change regional representation now goes to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. If the Minister grants the Region authority to make the change, public notice and at least one public meeting must be held to consider the matter. Then, Regional Council must pass a motion by December 2017 to change representation in time for the 2018 election.

Where does that leave Burlington? Once the 2016 census data is released, if it shows Burlington also deserves another seat, Regional Council could vote to send a second request to the Minister to allow the Region to make the change. But by then, Burlington will have lost some leverage.

Background materials:

Regional Representation Milton Position

Regional Representation Halton Hills Position

Regional Representation Minutes Nov 12

Regional Representation Burlington Position

Regional Representation Staff Report Nov 2015

Regional Representation Oakville Position

My Take:

As I said during the vote, this is a political decision, not a democratic decision, and it’s wrong. Oakville took the initiative to reach out to other Halton municipal councils, using their leverage of the triple majority to get support for an extra seat for Oakville.  Burlington did not take the initiative to reach out to other municipal councils. As a result, Burlington representation is slightly diminished at the Region, with representation based on estimates, not actual census population.  We may have a chance to correct this for 2018, based on the new census data; otherwise, it will be at least 2022 for another opportunity to get true representation by population back for Burlington at the Region.


Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

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