Don’s Dialogue – District of Muskoka Council Composition Review Report

My Comments


Background:   The District of Muskoka (DMM) was created in 1971 by the Province of Ontario, under the District of Muskoka Act.   The Act consolidated several municipal governments to create six lower tier governments – the towns: Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Huntsville and the townships: Georgian Bay, Lake of Bays and Muskoka Lakes. In the Donald Patterson Study on which the Act is based, each of the towns and Muskoka Lakes were assigned four seats at the District Council table and Georgian Bay and Lakes of Bays got three seats ( Lake of Bays originally had 2 seats ,but it was increased to 3 in 1983).   Patterson calculated representation based on population, with all permanent residents being counted 100% weighting of the population and seasonal residents were given a 50% weighting. Patterson settled on fifty percent, knowing that for individual seasonal residents the number could vary significantly and it was impossible to determine an exact weighting.

The Council Chair was elected separately by the councillors, not the population at large. In future the District Chair will be elected by the electorate at large.

This council composition has been unchanged since 1983.

The province has mandated that councils review their composition every two election cycles, starting in 2020. Council deemed it appropriate to start the process in this election cycle and authorized staff and a consultant to conduct a quick review.

The Process: Several months ago the Clerk conducted a detailed review of DMM and other regional municipalities re: number of councillors, voting methods, vote weighting, population per elected representative etc. for primarily upper tier municipalities (Regional Governments)

Council passed a resolution in Sept. 2017 that affirmed support for representation by population “in principle” and that the seasonal residents would be given the same 100% weighting as permanent residents.

This analysis is the first part of any change process. Any change requires what is called a “Triple Majority” approval. First District Council must approve the change, second the majority of lower tier councils (at least 4 of the 6) must approve the change and third the majority of the population must be represented in the approval by the lower tier governments.

The final step would be the approval of any change by the Minister of Municipal Affairs, with no changes occurring before the 2022 election

The Study Mandate: Council approved the retention of Dr. Andrew Sancton, a Professor of Political Science at the U of Western Ontario and his team to do the following:

  1. Review the size and composition of Council
  2. Review use of weighted and non weighted voting
  3. Review the principle of representation by population (100% seasonal weighting)
  4. Interview stakeholders and conduct public consultations
  5. Prepare interim and final reports with specific recommendations/options.

The Study: The Consultants did an excellent job within a narrow time frame to provide Council with examples from other municipalities, comments and input from councillors and 25 members of the public.

They also spent considerable effort to address the issues around representation by population, with Muskoka’s large seasonal population. They commented on some options for changing the size of council and the weighting of votes.   I would encourage everyone to read the consultants, Interim as well as the Final Report, to better understand the evaluation process and rationale for their recommendations.

Population:   For the past 45 years the District of Muskoka has relied on the Patterson Report, which used representation by population to determine the number of councillors from each lower tier to sit on District Council. However, representation by population only weighted a seasonal resident at half a permanent resident.

This 50% weighting has not withstood the test of time. It is my belief, that it is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There is recent case law in Kearny and Kingston that forced municipalities to recognize seasonal and student residents as full voting members of the population, certainly not a half member. Also a recent OMB hearing in the City of Kawartha Lakes regarding the changing of ward boundaries, did not accept the applicants arguments that council representation should be based on the voters list.

In Ontario, the province has indicated that representation should be based on the relative size of the population per elected member, as a general principle. However, there is no specific legislation to require it. Both the Federal and Provincial Governments take a dim view of any municipal government that looks to implement representation by eligible voter and any attempt to do so would likely be challenged at the OMB, if ward boundaries were being changed.

The reasoning behind representation by population, rather than by elector, is that many people in a municipality can not vote i.e. children and foreign citizens who own property in a municipality. Elected officials are expected to represent everyone in the municipality not just the eligible voters. Interestingly, both the Federal and Provincial Governments adjust their riding boundaries and the number of ridings based on population

Deficiencies in representation by population in a municipality, are an obvious irritant and that is why the province is mandating representation reviews every other election cycle.

In most municipalities the census, which is conducted every 5 years, provides a reasonably accurate evaluation of the population of a municipality. However, in Muskoka the census does not capture the seasonal population that is estimated at over 83,000 people in 2013. It only captures the permanent population that was 59,200 people based on the 2011 Federal Census.   The number and percentage of the seasonal residents in each of the 6 lower tiers is proportionally higher in the 3 Townships.

The Second Home Study is the source of the data used to determine seasonal population. While this study was not intended to be a census of seasonal residents, it does provide, in my opinion, a reasonable approximation.   With a bit of work to extrapolate the population data and apply it to the number of seasonal residences on the tax rolls, I believe a credible indication of the number of seasonal residents can be obtained.   In any event the DMM system for 45 years has used population for electoral representation.   The only change proposed is that we weight every individual at 100%, rather than permanent at 100% and seasonal at 50%.

It is interesting to note that in 2012 The Township of Georgian Bay, one of the six lower tier municipalities in DMM, adjusted ward boundaries to achieve more equitable representation based on population, not by electorate.   This triggered an appeal to the OMB, which upheld the adjusted ward boundaries based on population. It is especially noteworthy that Georgian Bay used the DMM Second Home Study to produce a reasonably accurate estimate of the seasonal population in the Township.

Weighted Voting:   The Sancton Report provided examples where municipalities used weighted voting in an attempt to provide a more equitable representation by population, than a one councillor, one vote system provides. Simcoe County to our south uses weighted voting for some council motions, but not others.   Most DMM Councillors saw the system as burdensome and complex for a relatively small upper tier municipality with only 6 lower tiers.

The table below provides an indication of how the Simcoe County application of weighted voting could work in the District of Muskoka based on the number of electors, not population.   Simcoe County does not use weighted voting for every vote, further complicating the process.

Population Percent Total Votes
Huntsville 17,851 22.35% 9
Bracebridge 14,941 18.71% 7
Gravenhurst 13,154 16.47% 7
Muskoka Lakes 16,993 21.28% 8
Lake of Bays 7,963 9.97% 4
Georgian Bay 9,014 11.29% 5
MUSKOKA DISTRICT 79,856 100% 40

*Votes weighted on basis of eligible electors

Council Size: Outside of Federal and Provincial Ridings that seem to grow in number and in direct proportion to population changes. Municipal governments have tended to reduce the number of councillors.   In my opinion, Muskoka is grossly over governed, with 4 levels of government for 60,000 full time residents and just over 80,000 seasonal residents.   Counting both the upper and lower tier governments in Muskoka we have 51 council members (note 22 of them are counted twice because these councillors serve on both an upper and lower tier council).  Even with 100% seasonal representation this is less than 3000 people per councillor and at the district level is only 6,500 people per councillor.

In Kawartha Lakes to our southeast, they are reducing the number of wards and councillors from 16 to 8.   Burlington, a city of over 150,000 full time residents, runs with a council of 7 members.   To be fair, many of the larger municipalities have full time councillors and a mayor, often with support staff and the compensation is usually significantly higher. In Muskoka, and in many smaller municipalities, being a mayor or councillor is considered a part time position.

I believe there is an opportunity to do four things with a smaller Council, and my preference would be the smallest that Sancton recommends, which is a 15 member council, however there could be some density of representation issues with Sanctons proposal.  My reasons are as follows:

  1. Provides an opportunity to reorganize the standing committee structure to form a Committee of the Whole, with less voluminous reports.   This forces every councillor to become more engaged and knowledgeable on the total business of the DMM, not just one sub committee. It would also treat all councillors the same, currently the mayors of Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay must sit on 2 monthly standing committees
  2. Less councillors would free up some funds to increase the compensation paid to councillors without increasing taxes. This might elevate interest in local politics and attract more people willing to devote time to public office.
  3. A council that is one third smaller and more engaged should provide a more collegial atmosphere to facilitate discussion and better understand alternate points of view and opinions. It would also reduce silos of discussion with 4 standing committees.
  4. It should also provide the CAO with an opportunity to re evaluate how the DMM is structured and open up opportunities to reengineer both structure and process for improved performance and efficiency.

The tables below provide some of the options the consultants have developed. I have inserted a synopsis of their comments along with my own comments after each table.

It should be noted that the Sancton Report recommends the minimum number of seats for any municipality is two, no matter what the size of the council.

The 19 Member Council:


Resident electors Non-resident electors Total Percentage of total electors 19 member council 23 member council
Huntsville 12,846 5,005 17,851 22.4% 4 5
Bracebridge 10,698 4,243 14,941 18.7% 3 4
Gravenhurst 7,460 5,694 13,154 16.5% 3 4
Muskoka Lakes 4,985 11,948 16,933 21.2% 4 5
Lake of Bays 2,200 5,763 7,963 10.0% 2 2
Georgian Bay 1,823 7,191 9,014 11.3% 2 2
MUSKOKA DISTRICT 40,012 39,844 79,856 100.0% 18 22


The table above uses the current electoral list, not population.   With the current 22 councillors, the redistribution would see Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay loose a councillor and Huntsville and Muskoka Lakes would gain a councillor.   The representation by elector would range from a low of 3300 in Gravenhurst to a high of 4500 in Georgian Bay.   If the council was reduced by 4 councillors (about 20%), representation would average 4400 electors per councillor and the range would be just under 5000 electors in Bracebridge, down to just under 4000 in Lake of Bays.   This is certainly within the tolerance of 25% variance that Kawartha Lakes used and the OMB found acceptable. Note it is usually expected that there would be a higher representation density in urban areas verses rural municipalities.


The 15 Member Council:

2016 census Population 2016 seasonal population Permanent + Seasonal (100%) Percentage of total Population 15 member council 23 member council
Huntsville 19,816 7,031 26,847 18.4% 3 4
Bracebridge 16,010 7,629 23,639 16.2% 2 4
Gravenhurst 12,311 12,641 24,952 17.1% 2 4
Muskoka Lakes 6,588 28,363 34,951 24.0% 3 5
Lake of Bays 3,167 13,168 16,335 11.2% 2 2
Georgian Bay 2,499 16,331 18,830 12.9% 2 3
Muskoka District 60,391 85,163 148,554 100.0% 14 22




I have not included tables for the 19 member council that would use full weighting for the seasonal and permanent population.   However, the average representation per councillor would decrease from the 10,600 people to 8,250.

The 15 member, 100% representation by population weighted council, in the Sancton Report had the most support from councillors and is shown above.   As indicated, the average representation per councillor is 10,600 people, ranging from a high of 12,500 people in Gravenhurst to a low of 8,900 people in Huntsville (LoB is lower, but seats are fixed at 2).   This range provides almost a 40% variance in representation by population. Which may be too large to be fair to people in Gravenhurst.

Considering the density of representation distribution, the rural areas usually are geographically larger and/or will usually have lower representation densities, Sancton considered 2 seats a minimum for any municipality, hence Georgian Bay and Lake of Bays are always given a minimum of 2 seats, even though the Lake of Bays having a representation density of 8,200 people would always be the lowest of the 6 municipalities. The variance for the 15 seat council would show a variance between Gravenhurst and Lake of Bays of 50%

It is interesting to note that an 18 member council could see the towns with 3 councillors, Muskoka Lakes with 4 councillors and 2 councillors in each of Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay.   The representation would be much fairer with a range of representation from 9,150 people in Georgian Bay down to 7,900 in Bracebridge, which is only an 16 % representation variance.

Sancton used the 2016 census and extrapolated the 2013 second home study data to arrive at the population figures. While they will never be 100% accurate for a multitude of reasons, I still contend that the second home numbers even with a 10% error (plus or minus 8,000 people) are sufficiently accurate, to determine the correct allocation of District Councillors from all municipalities. If we are prepared to accept a 25% maximum density of representation variance, like the City of Kawartha Lakes permitted in their ward boundary realignment and that the OMB accepted.



  1. Use the census and the second home study with some further work along with MPAC data to refine the seasonal population numbers. Use the resultant total population to determine council composition for each municipality, basis final council size.
  2. Reduce the total number of councillors. Preferably 14, but representation densities variances may be too high, so perhaps 17 might be a more equitable total number of councillors
  3. Reorganize standing committee structure with the CAO to examine other opportunities for improvement or efficiency.
  4. Increase council compensation without increasing taxes, as an attempt to encourage more public interest in municipal politics.


Don Furniss