Liberals refrain from taking stance on new riding map

New Brunswick's Liberal leader said his party wants to wait to hear from the public on a proposed riding map before saying whether they will support the redrawn electoral boundaries

Brian Gallant says the Liberals will hold open nominations in new ridings

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said it is too early in the process for his party to take a position on the preliminary riding map released last week. (CBC)

Liberal Leader Brian Gallant says it is too early to say whether his party will support a proposed new electoral map that has eliminated six seats and dramatically reshaped New Brunswick’s riding boundaries.

An independent commission released the proposed map on Thursday and is now preparing for two weeks of public meetings to receive feedback from the public.

The province’s Liberal leader said his party’s 13 MLAs have some concerns with the preliminary riding.

But he said the Liberals will see how the public reacts to the new riding boundaries during upcoming public hearings.

"We all have some feelings towards the map, but what's important right now is to find out what the communities of interest are feeling," Gallant said.

"We hope, and from what we saw there's going to be 12 public consultations around the province. We hope that they will be positive dialogues to ensure that the communities feel that the map changes will benefit them."

The proposed map reduces the number of ridings to 49 from 55. The map has also created several rural ridings that cover large geographic areas and proposed grouping some communities, that were previously in separate constituencies, together in new constituencies.

Liberal MLA Roland Haché represents Nigadoo-Chaleur, which is a rural, northern riding along the Bay of Chaleur.

Commission's public consultations

Feb. 17: Caraquet

Feb. 18: Bathurst

Feb. 19: Campbellton

Feb. 20: Edmundston

Feb. 21: Grand Falls

Feb. 25: Bouctouche

Feb. 26: Sackville

Feb. 27:  Moncton

March 1: Miramichi

March 4: Saint John

March 5: Woodstock

March 6: Fredericton

His first reaction on Thursday was to condemn the map and specifically how it reduced the number of seats in rural New Brunswick.

"Less representation from rural New Brunswick certainly means less power from rural New Brunswick," Haché said.

But fellow Liberal MLA Bill Fraser, who currently represents Miramichi-Bay du Vin, said there's a benefit to some of the changes proposed by the commission.

For instance, Fraser said he thought it was a good idea to merge the former rival communities of Newcastle and Chatham into a single urban riding.

"It's probably a positive step forward for the city, and for unity in the city," he said.

And Fraser said while it's too bad the Miramichi area is losing a seat, it was probably inevitable, with the total reduction of ridings.

"It's kind of hard to make that argument, when we had to reduce and they kind of had to come from somewhere," he said.

Gallant promises open nominations

The commission was ordered to create a map with only 49 maps. In order to do that, the commissioners set an electoral quotient of 11,269, which was the number of voters divided by the 49 ridings. Every riding had to be within plus or minus five per cent of the electoral quotient.

The commission grouped the new map into 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 new map will also have some electoral consequences on the political parties.

If the map remains untouched, there are several ridings that could see incumbent MLAs running against each other in the same riding.

In some cases, it could be Liberal and Progressive Conservative incumbent MLAs running against each other, while in others two incumbent MLAs will need to compete against each other for their party’s nomination.

Those nomination battles will be healthy for the Liberals, according to the party’s leader.

"We're going to have open nominations, we want people to be engaged with our party. It means you start with nominations, you start with recruiting people in your community," Gallant said.