Studying new far north ridings: 'the more northern Ontario voices at Queen's Park the better'

The re-drawing of the electoral map of northeastern Ontario began this week, with the next provincial election exactly one year away. The Far North Electoral Boundaries Commission is looking at creating two new ridings out of Timmins-James Bay and Kenora-Rainy River.

Commission expected to report back to provincial government in August

The Town of Moosonee is one of the only municipalities in Ontario's far north. (Paul Lantz)

The commission tasked with finding a way to better represent Ontario's far north at Queen's Park held its first round of consultation in the northeast this week.

Public meetings, some of them with just a handful of citizens, were held in Timmins, Smooth Rock Falls, Kapuskasing, Hearst and Constance Lake First Nation to discuss how to create one or two new ridings out of the vast territory currently covered by Timmins-James Bay and Kenora-Rainy River. 

Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek (Erik White/CBC )

Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek says his impression is that the commission is looking at splitting the Timmins-James Bay riding in two, with Highway 11 communities like his staying with Timmins and with the remote communities of the James Bay Coast getting their own MPP.

"The Indigenous communities certainly need and deserve to have their voices heard and the more northern Ontario voices at Queen's Park, the better," says Spacek.

Moose Cree First Nation councillor Gilbert Cheechoo Jr. says that's what he'd do if he had "the magic pen."

He says current and long-time New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson has done good work, but thinks the James Bay coast needs to send one of its own to Queen's Park.

"I think in order to get the job done, you have to be in those communities to have that person to person relationship," says Cheechoo.

A sign at the public docks in Moosonee during the 2014 provincial election campaign. That year, the NDP captured 71 per cent of the vote on the James Bay Coast. (Paul Lantz)

But right across the river in Moosonee, Mayor Wayne Taipale has a different perspective.

"No, I don't agree with that, I think we'll be smaller, smaller riding, smaller population and more likely to be left out again," he says, arguing a small town like his gets more attention by being in the same riding with a larger centre like Timmins.

Taipale says he hasn't heard much about this commission and the public meetings it's holding about re-drawing the electoral map, which he says is par for the course in the far north.

"You know, there's decisions being made for the north that a lot of times we're the last to hear about it," he says.

The commission says it will be holding another round of consultation along Hudson Bay and James Bay before making its recommendations in August to the province. Legislation creating any new ridings must be table in order to have them in place for the next election in June 2018.

It would give the other parties a chance to unseat the dominant NDP, which captured 71 per cent of the James Bay vote in 2014, although only 32 per cent of eligible voters in those communities marked a ballot.