Regional Council Composition Review – Public Information Sessions

December 31, 2015 – During the past 20 years, the size and distribution of Durham Region’s population has changed dramatically. Durham Region residents are invited to participate in public information sessions to provide input about the size and composition of Durham Regional Council.

In May 2015 Regional Council established a Special Committee to review the composition of Regional Council and report back directly to Regional Council with recommendations no later than March 2016. The purpose of this review is to ensure that governance is viewed as fair, effective and responsive to an evolving community.

The Special Committee includes the Regional Chair, one Regional Councillor from each area municipality (eight in total), representatives from the local boards of trade and chambers of commerce, as well as representatives from the local post-secondary institutions, UOIT, DurhamCollegeand Trent University Durham.

The Committee has met six times to date, and will meet again in late January and February. All meetings are open to the public. Click here to view scheduled Public Information Sessions. The Committee has discussed a number of items, including:

•   past changes to Durham Region Council composition;

•  the current Durhamrepresentation compared to those in other jurisdictions, including the Regions of Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterlooand York;

•  reviewing relevant Ontario Municipal Board and Supreme Court decisions on the issue of effective representation;

•  considering population forecasts, representation by population, and other factors that could be necessary for achieving effective representation, including geography, community history, community interests, etc.;

• contemplating the impact of the post-secondary student population on representation;

• examining background information regarding the fiscal arrangements of the Region of Durham;

• reviewing the legislated roles, responsibilities, duties and workload of councillors, and the potential impacts of having fewer councillors;

• deliberating whether Durhamshould consider direct election of Regional Councillors; and

• considering the value of moving to regular council composition reviews on a prescribed schedule.

After careful discussion and deliberation, the Committee has agreed to the following principles:

• Representation should be fair, effective and responsive.

• The electoral process should be simple and transparent.

• Any population statistics used in deciding Regional Council composition will use census data and short-term Regional population forecasts of no more than five years out.

• The composition of Regional Council shall be reviewed on a regular basis. The next review should be the first year of the ninth year after the next election (that is, after two terms of Council). At that time a review of the timelines for future reviews would be considered.

• Each of the northern municipalities will retain representation by the mayor and one regional councillor. This addresses the issue that urban and rural communities may be treated differently, but equally between municipalities.

• Mayors will automatically have a seat on Regional Council, and will be factored into any calculation regarding its overall size and distribution.

The Committee is now requesting public input on critical issues that still need to be addressed:

• Should the size of Durham Regional Council remain the same, be increased or reduced? Accordingly, what is the appropriate number of constituents to be represented by each regional councillor?

• Should Durhamconsider direct election of regional councillors?

In answering these questions, there are no clear universal principles at play, no “standards” and no formulas to apply. Each region must decide on representation that best suits their unique circumstances. This is the primary focus of this public information session.

Past Changes

Durham Region was established in 1974 with a 30 member Council plus a Regional Chair. The composition of Regional Council has changed twice.  In 1989 it increased to 32 members plus the Regional Chair, and in 1998 it was reduced to its current 28 members plus the Regional Chair.

Understanding the issue

Addressing issues of representation is not unique to Durham Region. Regional governments across Ontariohave struggled with similar questions.

The regional system of municipal government consists of two tiers. The regional level or upper tier, which operates at a broader scale to provide planning, servicing and financing for the Region. In Ontariothere are currently 23 upper-tier Counties and 6 RegionalMunicipalities, including Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterlooand York.

In Durham Region, the eight area municipalities constitute the lower tier, and operate at a more local scale, handling services such as local planning, fire protection, tax collection and parks and recreation.

Upper-tier or regional councils are required to include representation from each of the area municipalities, but are also expected to respect variations in population. Finding a way to ensure both principles are incorporated into Durham Regional Council is part of the current challenge.

Size of Regional Council

The Committee’s research to-date has concluded that there is no formula to determine the optimal size of council, or even a general consensus as to the best or ideal number of councillors. The information that is available is often anecdotal.  It has been suggested that the optimal size of a municipal council will depend on the values used to make the choice. It depends on the purpose, the role, and the nature of the local government being considered. In Durham Region, we must consider how many elected officials are necessary to participate in committees, oversee service delivery, make effective decisions, attend to the needs of their constituents, and serve on external committees, agencies, boards, etc., as well as the ability of representatives to tend to their regional, local, family, and non-political obligations.

Maintaining the current size of Regional Council

The current Council size of 28 members plus the Regional Chair could be maintained, while the distribution of Councillors amongst area municipalities could be adjusted based on population or other factors.

Reducing the current size of Regional Council

The size of Regional Council could be reduced either as a percentage (reduced by 25% as was done in 1996, for example), or as an absolute number (reduced from 28 members to 20 members, for example).

Increasing the current size of Regional Council

The size of Regional Council could be increased beyond the current 28 members, resulting in a larger Council where each Councillor would represent fewer residents. A key question being asked in this public information session is: from your perspective, should the size of Durham Regional Council remain the same, be increased or reduced? Accordingly, what is the appropriate number of constituents to be represented by each regional councillor?

Method of Electing Regional Councillors

Should Durham consider direct election of regional councillors?

Double Direct Election

A double direct election is when an individual is elected to two political offices in one election. Candidates run for seats and serve on both a regional council, as well as on a local area municipal government within that region. The double direct system is used in Durham Region, as well as the regions of Peel, York, and Halton. This means that all elected regional officials (except for the Regional Chair) have two sets of responsibilities and accompanying demands on their time.  Election may occur either by wards, where councillors are selected by only the electors in one ward, or “at large”, where councillors are selected by the electors in the whole municipality.

Indirect Election

A member of an upper-tier council may automatically be granted a seat because he or she is head of a lower-tier council (mayors of area municipalities automatically having a seat on Regional Council, for example). This is called indirect election.

Direct Election

A direct election is when an individual is elected to one political office in one election. As is the case with a double direct system, election may occur either by wards, where councillors are selected by only the electors in one ward, or “at large”, where councillors are selected by the electors in the whole municipality.

In other Regions (such as Niagara and Waterloo), candidates are selected to serve on Regional Council by direct election and do not simultaneously sit on the lower tier Council. This is sometimes described as having “separated councils”.


In maintaining the status quo, Regional Councillors across Durham Region would continue to be elected in their respective municipalities, representing their constituents at both the local and regional level.

Alternatively, moving to a direct system would mean that Regional Councillors would continue to be elected within their current municipal boundaries, but would be elected to Regional Council only. Regional Councillors would not simultaneously sit as local Councillors.

Some supporters of the double direct election method feel that it is important that Regional Councillors maintain a focus on local interests at the Regional Council table, and that the double direct system allows for better representation of minority interests.

Meanwhile, some supporters of direct election believe that this system is more democratic as councillors are less focussed on the concerns of their lower tier municipality and more interested in regional matters. It has been argued that this results in clear lines of accountability as there is a distinct separation of local and regional priorities.

Altering the composition of the Regional Council from the current double direct system will have implications on area municipalities, including the composition of area municipal Councils.

While it is helpful to know how other regional councils are structured, the Committee has been cautioned against making simple comparisons to council composition numbers in other Ontario Regions since the systems vary, and local characteristics (including the number of component municipalities within each region, ranging from 3 in Peel to 12 in Niagara) influence the size of regional council.

What some experts have said:

An external expert in local governance, democracy and electoral boundary reviews, Dr. Robert J. Williams of the Universityof Waterloo, prepared and presented an academic paper. The Committee heard that there is no empirical evidence that speaks to a formula or consensus on the optimal size of Council, and that Durhammust consider what is in the best interests of the Region. It was noted that successful and sustainable electoral systems are those which are simple and clear, as too much complexity works against voters’ understanding and trust in the system.

Regional Municipality of Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling also addressed the Committee to provide his insights relating to changes in Council composition in the Region of Waterloo. The Committee heard that in 2000 Waterloo reduced the size of its Council, implemented direct election of Regional Councillors, and the separation of Regional and local councils. Mr. Seiling advised that this has been a success for a number of reasons, including improved efficiency and accountability. He added that Regional Councillors are now more attuned to Regional issues, and there is a higher degree of participation. The Committee heard that there is public acceptance of the direct elect system, and that it gives the public a better understanding of what the regional level of government does versus what the local level does.

Current Local Council Composition within DurhamRegion

Regional Council Composition Review – Public Consultation

The Regional Council Composition Committee (RCCRC) welcomes written submissions from the public on this important issue. Please note that all comments must be attributable (name and address must be provided) in order to be included for consideration by the Committee. Your personal information will not be shared. Thank you for providing your comments.



Phone number / e-mail address (OPTIONAL):         

Question 1: From your perspective, should the size of Durham Regional Council remain the same, be increased or reduced? Accordingly, what do you feel is the appropriate number of constituents to be represented by each regional councillor?

Question 2: Should Durhamconsider direct election of regional councillors? Why or why not?

This form may sent to: The Regional Municipality of Durham headquarters at 605 Rossland Rd. E., 5th Floor, Whitby ON L1N 6A3 attention P. Reid, Office of the CAO, or you may e-mail your responses with any other comments to

The deadline for comments is Wednesday, January 20, 2016.