An independent commission released its proposed new electoral boundaries map for the province that reduced the number of ridings to 49 from 55.

The commission, which is led by Annise Hébert Hollies and Allan Maher, released the preliminary report in Fredericton on Thursday.

Premier David Alward ordered the commission to chop six ridings from the electoral map.

The commission said it had to "build an entirely new map" and that caused an "extensive rethinking of the province's riding boundaries and composition."

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Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Urquhart said a new riding map will mean some MLAs will have tough decisions to make before the next election. (CBC)

"The work of the Commission by necessity involves balancing many factors, not only within ridings, but between them. Creating a map with 49 equal ridings while seeking to group communities and areas together in a way that provides for effective representation, must optimize the end result for all New Brunswickers, with no advantage to one area or riding at an unfair cost to others," the report said.

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 commission created the new ridings using an electoral quotient, which was the number of voters divided by the 49 ridings. So the electoral quotient was 11,269.

The commission's report said if the new map was based on population and not the number of voters, the Northern region would have lost two seats, but the Capital region would have only lost a half a seat.

Hollies told reporters on Thursday she believes the preliminary report is "fair for everybody."

The commission had to stick to plus or minus five per cent of the electoral quotient of 11,269, so they had very little flexibility in where the riding boundaries were located.

She said the balancing act of urban and rural ridings was not that difficult because of their limited flexibility.

"New Brunswick is really rural … our big cities aren’t that big compared to other provinces and we just worked with the numbers that we had and we looked at communities of interest and everything the act stated and we think we did a pretty good job," Hollies said.

MLAs ponder futures

The electoral boundaries commission's preliminary report may mean tough decisions for many of the 55 MLAs.

Progressive Conservative MLA Carl Urquhart's York riding is disappearing. If Urquhart decides to run in the 2014 election, he would likely need to win the nomination against Premier David Alward or PC MLA Brian Macdonald.

Urquhart told reporters he knows how the conversation would go with the premier.

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

 

"We would have a frank and open discussion and I suspect that he would win," he said.

"And then it would be decision time at that time whether I’d be down here where Brian Macdonald, his area is moving out and taking my area. We would have to sit down with the party and figure out what we are going to do."

The two-term Tory MLA said the riding map, if it is not changed, will mean tough decisions for some of his colleagues.

"Some of us I suspect are going to decide we are going to take on other members, some of us will decide that we will retire, some of us are going to be mad and go home for a two or three days and think about it," he said.

The proposed new boundaries will be the subject of public consultations before they become official.

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

Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault is one MLA who could be running against another incumbent in 2014. His Dalhousie-Restigouche East riding will be merging with Campbellton-Restigouche Centre, which is represented by PC MLA Greg Davis.

Arseneault said it is too early to start talking about riding fights.

"What we need to do now is go back to our ridings and meet the public and see what they feel, if they feel the new limitations on our ridings really reflect our regions and if they want to be served in that sense or not," he said.

Liberal MLA Roland Haché said he believes many people in his area will be concerned about the changes. Haché said the influence of northern and rural New Brunswick will be diluted by this new map.

"What I see is what I don’t see. And I don’t see as many ridings that were there before," he said.

"Obviously, there is less representation and less representation from rural New Brunswick certainly means less power from rural New Brunswick. As we know the province is 50 per cent rural and 50 per cent urban."

The province’s ridings were last redrawn in 2005. The last time the province lost ridings was in 1991, when the number of constituencies was cut to 55 from 58. Those changes took effect in the 1995 election.