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With council to be slashed, could resident community boards be an effective alternative?

With just 25 councillors left representing Toronto’s 2.8 million people come October, some citizen groups are sounding the alarm about effective representation, and taking action to make sure every person in the city still has a voice.

Peggy Moulder with the Lakeshore Planning Council has written an extensive, 30-page plan to create resident community boards within each ward.

“This is to give effective representation. It’s more democratic,” said Moulder. “It’ll be legislated and it’ll give everyone an opportunity to put forward their input into city policies and decisions.”

Moulder, who is already running for a council seat, says while Toronto already has community councils made up of city councillors, these boards would be made up entirely of volunteer citizens. Up to 50 of them, appointed by city council, would sit on each board. The boards would cover each cluster of 250,000 people in the city, and meet monthly to discuss all community issues: from local park services and street cleaning to child development and housing.

“The idea is to give all neighbourhoods, all development groups, input and opportunity to speak,” said Moulder.

New York City, which has 51 city councillors representing its 8.5 million people, has used this model since the sixties – and currently has 59 community boards throughout the city.

Los Angeles, with only 15 city councillors representing nearly 4 million people, has 97 neighbourhood councils.

But not everyone believes these would make up for the 22 slashed council seats.

“Truthfully no, not in its entirety,” said former constituency assistant Christian Tobin.

Tobin spent 5 years at city hall working for former city councillor Michael Walker and says with wards nearly doubling in size there’s no question city councillors will be overwhelmed with calls and requests – community boards or not.

“But I don’t think it’s really a question of whether it makes up for it, it’s a question of getting people involved. I think this is a great opportunity. It’s unfortunate that usually it takes a tragedy or something bad to get people motivated, but the point is: people are moving forward,” said Tobin.

While Toronto also has BIAs, meant to represent and support local businesses, they say unrelated community issues have already been trickling into their day to day affairs.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily just council cuts,” said Mark Garner, chief operating officer Downtown Yonge BIA.

“I also think BIAs in general are asked to engage more on different issues that they’re not normally able to handle.”

Those issues could theoretically be passed on to the resident community boards. Ultimately, they would have to be funded by the city. Moulder says that could be achieved by reallocating existing budget expenditures.