Scarborough residents say proposed federal riding boundary changes reduces representation

The federal government is in the process of redrawing Canada's electoral ridings and there's a proposal to cut the number of Scarborough-based ridings, prompting an outcry from residents. Nick Westoll reports.

While a federal election isn’t expected soon, a proposal currently being considered might change the way Toronto — especially Scarborough — will be represented in the Parliament of Canada.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario released a plan earlier this year that could see one of Scarborough’s ridings dropped altogether and several boundaries changed, prompting an outcry from residents.

“Scarborough has been on kind of a high recently in the news with the Scarborough hospitals and getting that funding and there’s really a momentum, a positivity that surrounds the community so it’s kind of like a hit to the gut a little bit,” Leighanne Woodstock, the owner and operator of Scarborough Tees — a clothing company that promotes the community, recently told CityNews in an interview.

“Throughout the years, everyone knows Scarborough has been the stepchild of Toronto and we don’t typically get the representation we deserve, so to lose that one seat seems small but it’s detrimental.

“It’s bothersome. I think people who identify as from Scarborough really hold on to our traditions, our history and I mean for lack of a better term our territory. Scarborough has always included Warden, Pharmacy and the eastern part of [Victoria Park Avenue] and that just shouldn’t change.”

RELATED: Alberta, Ontario, B.C. gain seats, Quebec loses one in new electoral boundaries

The proposed changes are part of a 10-year review of all federal electoral boundaries in Canada based on 2021 Census data. The most controversial part of the plan would see northwestern Scarborough broken up, extending the North York ridings of Don Valley North and Don Valley East past the municipal Scarborough boundary of Victoria Park Avenue and mostly east to Warden Avenue. The plan would also drop the number of Scarborough-based MPs down to five from six.

Jean Yip currently represents the riding of Scarborough–Agincourt. The western chunk of her riding would be absorbed into Don Valley North, which is mostly in North York.

“The identity is with Agincourt, 160 years worth of tradition, as well as Scarborough and the municipal boundary of Victoria Park has been such since the formation of Scarborough,” Yip told CityNews on Tuesday.

“It is about representation, we need to be six voices in Scarborough. Traditionally we have been underserved, we have been not heard as much and we need to be there, we need to have strong voices not just in Scarborough but 25 ridings in Toronto.

“We are the largest city and we are always taking in more than our fair share of newcomers and in Scarborough we have one of the most diverse populations … in denying us a seat or representation, we are also denying representation of diverse voices.”

A map showing the proposed ridings and how the ridings are being adjusted in response to population data from the 2021 Census

A map showing the proposed ridings and how the ridings are being adjusted in response to population data from the 2021 Census. FEDERAL ELECTROAL BOUNDARIES COMMISSION FOR ONTARIO

The Commission held a virtual hearing Tuesday morning to get feedback on the changes that would impact Scarborough. An in-person hearing at the Scarborough Civic Centre beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday also had to move to a virtual format because advocates said there was an increased interest. Click here to access the Tuesday evening public consultation session.

The changes prompted community groups like the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization to start a petition in an effort to fight back.

“Scarborough concerned residents have mobilized in a very short period of time like I have not seen before in order to push back at this,” Larry Whatmore, the group’s president, said.

“All of a sudden that just struck a nerve in Scarborough and in our many residents and organizations that didn’t want to put up with this and we’re tired of being put down.”

He went on to highlight if the plan is adopted as is, it could affect representation at all levels of government since provincial and municipal boundaries currently follow federal ones.

“So Scarborough loses three times,” Whatmore added.

“We’re concerned about what signal that sends to our many diverse communities who we are trying to integrate fully into our political processes and what that message sends when their representation is being diminished.”

CityNews contacted the commission to ask about the process to date, but a spokesperson declined. They referred CityNews to the commission’s website, citing ongoing public consultations.

The plan still needs to make its way through further studies, consultations with parliamentarians and a release of the final report. The rest of the process is expected to take another year. However, whatever boundaries are ultimately settled on could be in place as early as April 2024.

The commission is accepting written submissions from residents on the proposed boundary changes.

Whatmore pleaded with residents to review the proposal and send in comments.

“Stand up for Scarborough. We’re very proud of this place, there’s a lot to be proud of,” he said.

“We got our challenges too, what big city doesn’t, but that’s why representation is so important so we have the voices on the ground to address those issues.”

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