Northern Ontario's members of parliament ignored party lines and released a joint letter expressing concern over the draft plan to restructure federal riding boundaries across the North.
Signatories include Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré and Sudbury MP Viviane Lapointe. Also signing the letter are Kenora MP Eric Melillo, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski, Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan, Nipissing-Timiskaming MP Anthony Rota and Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison.
"As Members of Parliament representing the federal electoral districts of Northern Ontario, we have substantial concerns regarding the proposed boundary changes. Chief among these concerns are the loss of an electoral district, the creation of electoral boundaries that will be more challenging to serve, and the limited number of consultations," the letter reads.
"We understand that the commission has been seized with the difficult task of reviewing and adjusting riding boundaries, but Northern Ontario should not pay the price of having its representation dwindle in order to satisfy the population growth in bigger centres which have access to better infrastructure and resources."
Reducing the number of ridings in Northern Ontario, which is sparsely populated while being geographically massive, will only harm northern residents, the signatories state.
"Effective representation should ensure that Members of Parliament are accessible, and that Canadians have equal access to federal government services, regardless of where they live," the MPs argue. "This has traditionally been a challenge for Northern Ontario residents, particularly in rural and remote communities where there is a lack of: public transportation; reliable cellular and internet services; and access to government agencies.
"For these Canadians, Members of Parliament are a gateway to the federal government. To reduce the number of representatives for these individuals is to diminish their access to federal government services and to lessen their voices in parliament."
The politicians use the proposed new riding of Kiiwetinoong-Mushkegowuk as an example of the weakening of representation they argue the changes would create.
"The proposed electoral district of Kiiwetinoong-Mushkegowuk would be 520,307 square kilometers, the geographical equivalent of the nation of France," they write. "When you compare this to Brampton, which the commission is recommending a sixth riding be created in, a city that is only 266 square kilometers, you can see why it is difficult to substantiate the loss of a northern riding."
In the letter, the MPs "strongly urge" a reconsideration of the proposal.
"We strongly urge the commission to reconsider reducing the number of electoral districts in Northern Ontario. We are not opposed to adjustments, but the current number of electoral districts in Northern Ontario must be maintained."
Northern Ontario has already lost two ridings since 1974 due to redistribution and its low rate of population growth relative to other parts of the province.
Hajdu – who is the federal minister of Indigenous Services – told TBNewswatch.com she worries about "the huge geographical swath" of some of the new ridings that would be created by the redrawing of boundaries.
"Certainly it is about service to constituents," she said. "It is a challenge for MPs to do community work when they [serve] such a large area. That really is at the root of my concern. It is about the adequacy of representation."
The commission, which has no representative from Northern Ontario, is collecting public input before it finalizes its recommendations.
For this region, the proposed riding boundary changes would increase the size of both the Sudbury and Nickel Belt ridings. You can view the current distribution map and the proposed redistribution here.
Nickel Belt would become Manitoulin-Nickel Belt, and would technically no longer be a belt around the Sudbury riding. The riding would stretch from the U.S. border east to encompass Manitoulin Island and the French River region as far east as Noelville, as well as Espanola and Elliott Lake. The northern border of the riding would extend from west of Biscotasi Lake Provincial Park to Obabika River Provincial Provincial Park.
The Sudbury riding would keep its name, but grow to encompass Coniston and Wahnapitae nearly as far east as Stinson, and would grow to the north to include Capreol, Garson, Falconbridge and the Greater Sudbury Airport.
The deadline for the public to weigh in on the proposal is fast approaching and Northern Ontario MPs are calling on mayors, councillors, community groups, community leaders and concerned citizens to push back against the proposed redistribution.
Submissions to the commission can be made in a few ways. You can submit feedback in writing, attend a public hearing forum (of which there will only be one for Northern Ontario and it will be held in Timmins on Oct. 11), or participate in a virtual hearing.
The deadline for written submissions is Sept. 25. Public hearings begin on Sept. 26 and run to Oct. 29. A final report will be published before the end of December. MP objections will be gathered from November 2022 to May 2023, and the commission will review objections until June of next year. The representation order is set for September 2023.
If you wish to make a submission, all of the information you will need can be found here.
-With files from TBNewswatch.com