Boundaries panel hears concerns over riding map

New Brunswick's Electoral Boundaries Commission faced questions during a public meeting on Wednesday about its decision to split up neighbourhoods and create large rural ridings.

Electoral boundaries commission is holding hearings until March 6

New Brunswick's Electoral Boundaries and Representation Commission faced questions during a public meeting on Wednesday about its decision to split up neighbourhoods and create large rural ridings.

Annise Hébert Hollies is the co-chairperson of the Electoral Boundaries and Representation Commission. (CBC)

The commission has redrawn the province’s electoral map with 49 seats, down from 55, and is in the process of holding a series of public meetings to discuss its preliminary report.

The independent boundaries commission was required to cut the six seats by the provincial government, which meant each riding needed to have roughly 11,000 voters.

The new map means a number of significant changes for MLAs and citizens.

Liberal MLA Rick Doucet, who represents the southwestern riding of Charlotte—The Isles, said he’s concerned about the size of some of rural ridings under the proposed map.

"The representative who serves a far-flung riding with a sparse population cannot easily reach all constituents nor be easily reached in person by them," he said on Wednesday.

Doucet’s riding covers communities such as St. George, but also the Bay of Fundy Islands of Grand Manan and Deer Island.

While Doucet needs a ferry to connect with many of his constituents, residents in some northern New Brunswick ridings may have to drive hundreds of kilometres to meet with their MLAs.

For instance, the MLA representing the proposed riding of Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin would need to drive nearly 150 kilometres between Doaktown and Baie-Sainte-Anne.

Remaining meetings

March 1: Miramichi

March 4: Saint John

March 5: Woodstock

March 6: Fredericton

Rural ridings may be expansive under the proposed map, but urban areas are facing their own concerns with the changes.

People in part of Moncton feel like they may take a hit with the way the city's ridings have been divided by the commission.

Moncton Coun. Merrill Henderson, who lives in the west end of Moncton, said he’s concerned about how the commission has separated the city into different ridings.

"The proposed boundary lines that have the Georges Dumont hospital and [the University of Moncton] in separate ridings, like the constituents of the west end of Moncton, these institutions are linked in many ways and should be served by the same provincial representative," he said.

Mayor 'pleased' with extra seat

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said there were positive elements in the commission's preliminary report.

The greater Moncton area added a riding in the proposed map because of its growing population, which was highlighted in the latest census.

"We are pleased to see that the commission has taken into account and consideration Moncton's tremendous growth, which has resulted in an increase in representation for the city of Moncton from four MLAs to five MLAs so we do support that," LeBlanc said.

The commission did not have much of a choice when it came to adding a riding in southeastern New Brunswick. The commission was guided by an electoral quotient of 11,269, which was the number of voters divided by the 49 ridings.

Each proposed riding had to be within plus or minus five per cent of that quotient.

When designing the new map, the commission formed six regions: Northern, Miramichi, Southeast, South, Capital and River Valley.

Of those regions, Northern will lose 1.5 seats; Miramichi, South, Capital and River Valley will all lose one seat; and Southeast will lose a half a seat compared to the old map. (The half seat distinction is because the old map straddles regional boundaries.)

The commission will send its final report to the legislature and the changes will be in place by the 2014 provincial election.