AMS, SGPS challenge City in provincial hearing

Day three of Ontario Municipal Board hearing against Council sees students argue for fair representation

City and AMS lawyers wrestled over testimonials from City officials yesterday, as the Ontario Municipal Board hearing on city electoral boundaries entered its fourth day.

The OMB hearing is the latest development following the April decision by City Council to redraw city electoral boundaries solely using census data, which doesn’t include students.

The option they chose, which the City refers to as Option 1, would dissolve Sydenham District and reduce the number of councillors in student areas from four to three.

The AMS, the SGPS, the Sydenham District Association (SDA) and Queen’s Faculty of Law student Kevin Wiener filed appeals against the decision.

Witness statements have taken place throughout the week. City planning expert George Wallace was cross-examined on Monday and Robert Williams, a consultant from Watson and Associates, gave his testimony on Tuesday.

On the same day, AMS president and CEO Eril Berkok, SGPS president Iain Reeve and SDA chairman Ken Ohtake also spoke at the witness stand.

In his closing statement yesterday, Tony Fleming, the City lawyer, said taking students into account would create more problems for the City.

“It is undisputed evidence that historically post-secondary students haven’t participated in municipal elections in meaningful numbers,” he said.

By including post-secondary student estimates, he said, we risk diluting the votes in other districts with fewer students.

“It is not appropriate for this board to solve a perceived problem by creating a practical problem,” he said.

He added that the AMS can serve as effective representation for students, since the student voter turnout for AMS elections is higher than for municipal elections.

“The students have chosen who they want to represent them,” he said. “When [City officials] speak to student government, they know they are speaking for all students at Queen’s.”

Michael Hickey Jr., who represents the appealing parties, said testimonies from City officials implied that Option 1 didn’t provide fair political representation.

In his closing statement, he said Robert Williams consistently implied that Option 4 was the better option until the April Council decision passed, when he changed his position.

He said Williams’ original idea of representation referred to access to City councillors rather than voting power.

“He wasn’t talking about who votes on election day. He was talking about who has a voice every day after election day,” he said.

Hickey quoted a series of emails sent between Williams and Sydenham councillor Bill Glover to support his case.

In one of the emails, Williams wrote that “the design of a system that deliberately ignores a segment of the population will not be easy to defend.”

Kevin Wiener, who gave his closing statement after Hickey, told the Journal the AMS can supplement councillors but not replace them.

He cited councillor Liz Schell’s testimony, where she said it took her nearly two years to learn how to work effectively as a councillor, due to the learning curve.

“At the AMS, where you have 100 per cent turnover for every position,” he said, “you can’t have the same level of engagement and long-term strategizing on city priorities you can get from a councillor.”

On Wednesday, eleven members of the Kingston community gave presentations on the council decision, including Morgan Davis, president of the Student Life Association of St. Lawrence College, and city councillors Liz Schell, Jim Neill and Bill Glover.

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