Proposed federal riding changes spark debate

Federal commissioners tasked with redrawing New Brunswick's 10 electoral boundaries are getting an earful from voters who have concerns about a proposed riding map.

Commission will set new riding borders for 2015 federal election

A federal commission is holding public hearings into proposed riding changes. The new boundaries will impact where citizens vote in the 2015 federal election. (Courtesy of Elections Canada)

Federal commissioners tasked with redrawing New Brunswick’s 10 electoral boundaries are getting an earful from voters who have concerns about a proposed riding map.

Justice Alexandre Deschênes, the chairperson for the federal commission, listened to comments from citizens in the Fredericton area at a public meeting on Thursday.

Many voters offered suggestions during the hearing of how the panel should change the proposed map.

Proposed federal ridings and populations
New Brunswick Southwest65,592
Saint John85,838
Tobique-Saint John River Valley73,656

But it will be difficult for the three-person commission to adhere to the suggestions, while also sticking to the mandate given to it by Parliament.

Deschênes, Patrick Malcolmson and Justice Thomas Riordon, must get every riding to roughly 75,000, but are allowed a variance of plus or minus 25 per cent.

The commissioners must also balance all of the competing demands in their final report, which politicians, by law, cannot change.

Adding one area to a riding, means the commissioners are removing that area from a neighbouring riding.

John Johnston told the commission he lives 4.8 kilometres outside of Fredericton in the local service district of Hanwell. But he's lumped in with the coastal communities of St. Andrews and St. Stephen in the riding of New Brunswick Southwest.

"We have no connection with the whale watching or the sardine industry or whatever else goes on in Charlotte County," he said.

Johnston described how even Canada Post was confused with the arbitrary nature of the existing riding boundaries.

"We get our annual calendar from the member of Parliament from Fredericton, from Keith Ashfield. We have just recently, after great struggle with the post office, been getting information from New Brunswick Southwest," Johnston said.

He said he’d like the commissioners to fold his community into the riding of Fredericton.

Johnston was joined by others who couldn’t understand other parts of the proposed riding map.

Mary Mesheau asked Deschênes to reconsider the commission's proposed map, which would split her local service district near Oromocto between two federal ridings.

"You're taking a portion of our local service district. We'd like to keep the whole thing," she said.

When Deschênes described how the plan was to take half of Mesheau’s community, she offered the justice some very blunt advice.

"You're cutting us in half, basically, our community in half," she said.

Shifting demographics

New Brunswick's shifting demographics have made it difficult for the commissioners to carve up the province into 10 ridings that adhere to the population guidelines.

The commission used a provision that allows a riding to be created that is below the population threshold if it can be justified by "extraordinary circumstances."

The proposed Miramichi riding has a population of 51,996, which is below the threshold.

In its report, the commission said it could have added parts of Kent County, such as the Village of Saint Louis, to the Miramichi riding but didn't.

"After much thought, however, the commission decided not to adopt that option by reason of the much stronger communities of interest and identity that exist between these communities and the other communities of the electoral district of Beauséjour," the preliminary report said.

"The commission believes that those factors are, in this case, more important than voter parity for ensuring effective representation."

Under these boundaries, the population of Miramichi is almost half that of the riding of Beauséjour-Dieppe, which has a population estimate of 92,072.