Proposed changes to riding boundaries in Northern Ontario would mean some residents in Walden would be in the same electoral district as White River, more than 600 kilometres away.
That was among concerns raised by about 10 speakers at an Oct. 11 public meeting on the proposed changes. MPs, municipal politicians and some members of the public all said they appreciated the fact the electoral commission maintained the North's 10 seats. Under federal guidelines, the North only warrants eight seats.
But under the revised boundary plan, residents in areas such as Lively, Levack, Onaping and Dowling would become part of a new, geographically huge riding called Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney. Sudbury riding, meanwhile, would shrink considerably in size.
And residents in Garson, Valley East and Coniston would become part of another new riding, Nickel Belt-Timiskaming, which would extend east to West Nipissing and north almost to Kirkland Lake.
“We think having 10 seats in the North is paramount,” said Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, speaking at Tom Davies Square, where the meeting was held. “Thank you for that.”
But Thibeault said leaving the existing boundaries as they are is a far better plan than going with the proposed changes.
“The people in the western part of my riding are all part of the City of Greater Sudbury and have a lot more in common with those who live in the city, which is a 15-minute drive, than they would with people who live in White River, a 609-kilometre drive that can take more than seven hours – in good weather,” Thibeault said. “It makes no sense to sever those people from the riding, or from the rest of Greater Sudbury.”
Thibeault’s comments were echoed by fellow MP Claude Gravelle, whose Nickel Belt riding would lose several Sudbury communities to the new Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney riding and would gain areas to the east toward Nipissing and North Bay.
“Those communities around Sudbury that you propose moving to Algoma – Coniston, part of Wahnipitae, Dowling, Levack, Onaping — they are all towns in the City of Greater Sudbury,” Gravelle said. “To be severed from Greater Sudbury makes no sense, and goes against the realities of the geographical, political, business and social networks or natural paths that currently exist.”
But Justice George Valin, who chaired the electoral commission’s efforts in Ontario, said the goal is to achieve balance in the ridings. Since the provincial population has increased to 12,861,000, with 121 seats, each riding should average about 106,213 voters. Under federal law, each riding shouldn’t fall short or exceed the 106,213 population target by more than 25 per cent.
The new Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney riding has a population of 79,708 – just barely within the 25 per cent range targeted by the electoral commission. The Nickel Belt-Timiskaming riding would have 93,707 people, while Sudbury would number 85,263. While the new ridings cut across municipal boundaries, Valin said the commission had little choice.
“I appreciate your concerns,” Valin said. “But do you have any suggestions how we can do it?”
Finding the right balance isn’t easy, he said, when the North “only has enough population to justify eight seats.”
The MPs argued an exception should be made similar to the one made for Kenora, a riding with only 55,000 people, but that covers an area about the same size as Germany. But making such exceptions is rare and the electoral commission is reluctant to do it other than in exceptional circumstances.
Another idea came from Pauline Renault, a returning officer who has worked several elections. She proposed refinements to the electoral boundary changes that would keep Sudburians in either Nickel Belt or Sudbury.
She argued that the roughly 4,000 people the commission needs to make Algoma big enough could come from sections of the riding of Sault Ste. Marie, which, she argued, has more in common with people in the neighbouring riding than people from Greater Sudbury.
She said Sault Ste. Marie is already in the District of Algoma, and has 88,000 voters. Adding some of that population to the Algoma riding, which is at 74,000, would increase its population past the 79,000 mark.
“Could we not redistribute the outlying areas of Algoma, thereby making all the Northern ridings meet the minimum population quotas?” Reneault said.
In response, Valin asked Reneault to provide details of her proposal and promised to consider her and other recommendations presented Oct. 11 before a final decision is made on the new riding boundaries.
To see a detailed map of the proposed changes, go to www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca.