Proposed new electoral map an 'attack' on the Anglo vote, lobby group says

A proposal to eliminate a provincial riding with a large anglophone population could damage the community's political voice, according to a prominent Anglo lobby group.

Proposed new riding boundaries would eliminate Westmount-Saint-Louis

Splitting Westmount into two ridings represents an attack on the Anglo vote, says the Quebec Community Groups Network. (Michelle-Andrea Girouard/CBC)

A proposal to eliminate a provincial riding with a large anglophone population could damage the community's political voice, according to a prominent Anglo lobby group.

Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, says he was "surprised and shocked" at proposed revisions to the electoral map announced last week by the province's chief electoral officer.

On the new map, Westmount–Saint-Louis, a riding where 37 per cent of residents claim English as their mother tongue, would be absorbed into two neighbouring ridings.

The western part of Westmount would join the riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, while eastern Westmount would join the newly created downtown riding of Ville-Marie.

The result, said Chambers, would be one less seat in the National Assembly representing the anglophone interests. He called the change "an attack" on Anglos.

"They've chopped the riding up where some parts of it are going east, some parts are going to Saint-Henri, some parts are going to NDG," Chambers told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Québec Solidaire also feels threatened by changes

Quebec's chief electoral officer, the Directeur général des élections du Québec (DGEQ), justified the revisions by arguing that Montreal has too many seats relative to its population, which is why one riding on the island needs to go.

Westmount–Saint-Louis was targeted for elimination because of a low number of voters and slow population growth, a spokesperson for the DGEQ said.

The changes proposed by the DGEQ would see Westmount split into two different ridings. (DGEQ)

Québec Solidaire riding could go too

The redrawing of the electoral map also puts the riding of Québec Solidaire's Manon Massé on the chopping block.

The DGEQ has proposed merging a large chunk of her riding, Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques, with downtown Montreal.

Québec Solidaire's Amir Khadir said the change would be devastating for the small party, noting the current electoral system already disadvantages smaller parties. 

"Imagine that, that you're merging the [public housing project] Jeanne-Mance HLM, one of the poorest sectors of downtown Montreal, with high-level luxury condos on Drummond Street. That's what they've done," Khadir said.

He called the DGEQ's latest proposal "gerrymandering" to benefit the governing Liberals. The DGEQ is an independent institution that reports to the National Assembly.

Quebec's Electoral Representation Commission, a three-member panel presided by the chief electoral office, reviews the electoral map every two elections to take into account demographic changes.

Along with the proposals for Montreal, it proposed eliminating one riding in the Mauricie region (currently held by the Liberals) and adding one each to the Laurentides-Lanaudière region, where the population is on the increase.

Québec Solidaire MNAs Manon Massé, left, and Amir Khadir worry the changes will decimate their already small party.

Groups criticize lack of consultation

The chief electoral officer submitted the first version of changes in March 2015 and held consultations across the province.

In September 2016, MNAs debated the proposal and questioned the chief electoral officer, Pierre Reid. He submitted a second version of the changes last week.

According to the timeline set out in the Elections Act, MNAs will have five hours to debate the new version, starting Tuesday.

Once the debate is over, Reid has 10 days to finalize the new electoral map. There is no vote as his decision is binding.

Chambers said his group feels blindsided by the second version as "the original plan made no reference" to eliminating Westmount–Saint-Louis.

"There was no consultation," he said.

Democratic Reform Minister Rita de Santis said the concerns raised by Chambers about the lack of consultation were "valid." De Santis indicated she would be open to revisiting the law. 

"I believe it may be a concern that we should discuss after this process," she said.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak