The boundary change will come into effect just before the 2022 municipal election. Image: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum
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Lees campus is now part of Rideau-Vanier ward, rather than Capital ward

Ottawa’s city council passed a motion in December 2020 which added a 24th seat to Ottawa’s city council and changed boundaries of some wards. As a result of the vote, the University of Ottawa’s Lees campus will now be part of the Rideau-Vanier Ward rather than the Capital Ward.

The boundary change will come into effect just before the 2022 municipal election. It will change the riding size of both wards and have an impact on regional by-laws in the area. 

The U of O Lees campus currently has no residences and therefore no potential voters are being moved into the Rideau-Vanier ward by this boundary change. However, it should be noted that the university has plans to develop a series of residential buildings across from the campus by 2030.

The Fulcrum reached out to the population projection consultants for the Ottawa Ward Boundary Review 2020 project and did not hear back in time for publication. The university administration confirmed that they were not directly consulted by the city on the boundary change and by extension never had a chance to share plans for developments in the area. 

Back in 2020, consultant firm Beate Bowron Etcetera initially presented six options for the ward boundary review ranging from adding 25 seats to reducing the council to 17 seats.  

Kiel Anderson, manager of policy and business operations for the Office of the City Clerk, said changing Lees campus of ward came in the second round of public consultations. According to Anderson, the reasoning for the boundary change of Lees campus was attributed to Beate Bowron, project manager for the Ottawa Ward Boundary Review 2020.

“[A] major criterion of effective representation refers to communities of interest … the information we were given is that the Gee-Gees sports field south of Highway 417 is directly associated with sports facilities to the north in the current Rideau-Vanier Ward. Since ward boundaries are not drawn around individual properties, the River became the new boundary.”

“Respecting natural [or] physical boundaries is one of the components of effective representation ….  another component of effective representation is achieving voter parity, that is similar numbers of people in Ottawa’s wards (while having regard for Ottawa’s urban and rural communities).”

Anderson also shared that the motion to adopt the boundary changes passed 17-6 in favour. Notably, both council members of the wards affected by the Lees campus boundary change voted against the changes. 

The Fulcrum’s investigation found no groups or individuals that had been directly consulted on this change.

This decision has drawn criticism from the Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA) who sent an email to Ottawa mayor Jim Watson questioning why the rezoning occurred at all. 

The letter, signed by OOECA’s president, alleges “the poorly-conceived Lees campus ward transfer fails to satisfy the three criteria required for a boundary change,” and “the transfer violates what ward boundary changes are supposed to achieve.”

In the group’s correspondence with the U of O, OOECA received an email from media relations manager, Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn confirming “the University of Ottawa was not involved in this ward boundary change.”

When speaking to the Fulcrum, the group’s Lansdowne chair, John Dance, said the group is concerned that the boundary change will limit their ability to advocate for the area. 

Dance echoed a concern mentioned in the groups letter that the boundary change does nothing to aid future voter parity in the wards.  

“The city has moved an area of great potential for additional people out of a less populous ward to a more populous ward,” said Dance. “It’s just lousy governance is what it is.” 

Dance spoke to the groups past advocacy in the area, including work to keep green spaces on the Lees campus. 

“Our Community Association has fought long and hard to keep [160 Lees] as a green space. And we will continue doing that. But we’re not going to have the same link with the city.”

“We’re appealing this to the local planning appeal tribunal,” added Dance. “If we’re successful then the city will be forced to reverse or amend the bylaws so that that the transfer is reversed.”

Dance mentioned the Action Sandy Hill community group was also not directly consulted on the boundary change. The Fulcrum confirmed this with the group’s president Susan Young.

Mathieu Fleury, Ottawa city councillor for Rideau-Vanier, voted against the boundary change. 

In a call with the Fulcrum, Fleury said that he voted against the report due to the consultant’s work being “based on population and population growth” which he deemed “inadequate.”  

He also feels the OOECA letter became insignificant by being sent in January as the vote was completed in December 2020.  

When asked about the impact on the U of O, Fleury assumes the ward boundary consultants would have looked at the university’s property ownership to reach a decision. 

“I’m not necessarily against this change,” said Fleury. “There were bigger issues to me with the report.”

Fleury says his vote against the suggested boundary changes was due to the fact that it did not address the work necessary in given wards, aside from the component of population size.

“I represent the lowest income, the oldest low income area in the city, I have a full university campus; the fourth largest in the country, I have three shelters.”

“It’s the way the wards are divided and the poor recognition of the amount of work that we have in our ward,” explained Fleury.