The next few weeks are critical to make final comments on a proposed new federal riding of Nickel Belt-Timiskaming and other boundary changes to the northeast region.
I am concerned they will bring drastic changes that could undermine effective representation by our elected Members of Parliament.
One question is whether communities want to leave Nickel Belt to join a newly-named riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney now served by my colleague Carol Hughes.
Switching ridings would be Levack, Onaping, Dowling, Cartier, Gogama, Foleyet, Mattins’s First Nation, the South End of Sudbury, Killarney, and part of the French River Municipality.
The part of Nipissing First Nation now with Nickel Belt would go to Nipissing riding.
Those communities need to figure out where their common interests, allegiance and history lie.
Another important question is whether Nickel Belt has similar common interests or history with the towns to be added to the riding.
Coming over from the Nipissing riding are the Tri Town communities of Temiskaming Shores (formerly New Liskeard and Haileybury), Cobalt, Temagami and Latchford.
Coming over from Timmins James Bay are the communities of Englehart, Earlton, Matchewan and the region up to just south of Kirkland Lake. Dokis First Nation would also join Nickel Belt.
Oct. 1 is the deadline set by the Ontario Electoral Boundaries Commission to either comment online or by mail or to register to appear as a witness at one of three hearings scheduled for the northeast.
These changes are not carved in stone yet. The commission notes that public hearings and input from the electorate had a great impact on the electoral boundaries created by the last commission in 2002.
No doubt, the commission faced big challenges to redraw the riding map after the 2011 census. It notes Northern Ontario has 87.7 per cent of the total area of the province, but only 832,014 people, and has declining numbers, compared to more people living in the south.
The commission decided that a minimum of 10 electoral districts is required in order for citizens of Northern Ontario to have effective representation. I am grateful to the many northerners and towns who spoke up to back the NDP, non-partisan “Keep the 10” campaign.
Had the commission rigidly applied its average riding population quota of about 106,000 for every Ontario riding, we would have lost another two ridings and be left with only eight electoral districts.
But this is where the wheels seem to have fallen off the bus with the redrawing of riding boundaries, especially in the northeast.
Kenora, with its population of 55,000, has its exception to the quota rule extended in the new recommendations. Despite the vast region we serve, the commission decided not to grant the same exception to the other northern ridings.
It is hard for people from the south to grasp these distances in the north. The riding of Timmins-James Bay is larger than Great Britain.
Without much explanation, the commission states it is up to Parliament to declare a population quota exception to other ridings.
Yet, it was a previous commission that did grant Kenora the exception and acknowledges the right to look beyond the principle of representation by population to consider manageable geographic size for sparsely populated, rural or northern regions.
I cannot figure out why the exception rule should not apply elsewhere in the north.
I remain convinced we need at least our ten ridings. We need to keep our historically-aligned communities together. We need exceptions to the riding population quotas. And we believe the commission can approve those exceptions.
The commission has scheduled three public hearings in the region for October:
-Sudbury, City Hall Council Chamber, Tom Davies Square, 200 Brady St., Oct. 11, 2 p.m.
-New Liskeard, Riverside Place, 55 Riverside Dr., Oct. 15, 2012, 1 p.m.
-North Bay, Holiday Inn Express, 1325 Seymour St., Oct. 16, 2012, 11 a.m.
Those who want to comment there or via mail might want to address how they believe effective representation can best be delivered and what common interests do or do not exist in existing and proposed boundaries.
I urge you to make your views known.
Here is how you can do that. Comments can be made by email at email@example.com. Please copy my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mail your comments to Ontario Electoral Boundaries Commission, 130 King Street West 36th Floor, Suite 3670 P.O. Box 368, Toronto, ON, M5X 2A2. Send copies to Claude Gravelle MP, House of Commons, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A6 – no postage required for mine.
Send a request to appear at one of the three northeast hearings to email@example.com.
The web site for the commission indicates what you should include in the request. Visit redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca.
Remember the Oct. 1 deadline. Regardless of the final decision, I am confident our NDP MPs will serve constituents throughout the north in our usual fashion - showing up, speaking up and reaching every corner of our vast ridings.
Claude Gravelle is the MP for Nickel Belt.