New Brunswick

No politics in election map revision, co-chairs say

Two former politicians co-chairing a commission redrawing New Brunswick’s provincial election map say there’ll be no politics involved in their work.

Commission launching consultations to redraw province’s riding map

Former Liberal premier Camille Thériault says the commision will work with a figure of 11,714 for the average number of residents in each new riding. (CBC)

Two former politicians co-chairing a commission redrawing New Brunswick's provincial election map say there'll be no politics involved in their work.

Former Liberal premier Camille Thériault and former Progressive Conservative MP Roger Clinch say they will stick to the letter of the law that requires them to come up with 49 new ridings roughly equal in population. 

"Our mandate is very, very clear. It had absolutely nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with gerrymandering," Thériault said Wednesday as the commission launched its website. "We're there to follow the piece of legislation that has been put in place.

"We will continue to look straight forward and not think or talk politics, but do what's best for New Brunswickers within the legislation that we are under."

Provincial law requires that an independent commission be appointed every 10 years to redraw the 49 electoral districts in the province to reflect changing population numbers.

The new map will take effect for the provincial election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024, and will have to shift some districts to account for rapid urban growth in the province.

In June, Green MLA Kevin Arseneau alleged the process would involve political trade-offs between the co-chairs to craft ridings beneficial to their former parties.

The three parties in the legislature were asked to suggest names for the commission, but the Green nominees were not chosen because the party refused to have their choices vetted by Premier Blaine Higgs's office, as the PC and Liberal names were.

"The people on the commission are all very well-respected people, I think, and I don't think there's any bias on anyone's part toward any particular party," Clinch said.

The six-member commission will hold 12 in-person public meetings and two virtual sessions to sound out New Brunswickers about the new map starting Aug. 23 and continuing to Sept. 15. 

"People will dictate to us what they think it should be," Clinch said. "We have rules and regulations to follow." 

After the first round of meetings, they'll draft a proposed map that they'll then take out to a second round of consultations before coming up with a final version within 90 days.

The law requires the commission to calculate the average number of voters in each riding, known as the "electoral quotient." Thériault said the figure they'll use is 11,714.

Former Progressive Conservative MP Roger Clinch says the commission has rules to follow in redrawing the electoral map. (GNB)

In the new map, each riding's number of voters must be "as close as reasonably possible" to the quotient, though the commission can deviate by up to 15 per cent to accommodate what are called "communities of interest" and other factors.

In "extraordinary circumstances" such as the need to ensure fair linguistic representation, the commission can deviate from the quotient by up to 25 per cent.

The last redrawing included the creation of Memramcook-Tantramar, which prompted complaints from francophones in the new riding that they were losing their majority-francophone constituency. 

At the time, the law allowed only a five-per cent deviation from the average, so the new commission now has more leeway to put the village in a mostly francophone riding.

"We will probably hear from the people in Memramcook," Thériault said. "But I'm not prejudging how they feel 10 years later."

Thériault said ideally he'd like to "tighten" some of the sprawling rural ridings in the province, such as Southwest Miramichi–Bay du Vin, which can take more than two hours to drive from end to end. 

He also mentioned the expanded footprint of St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton, divided between two provincial ridings, as an example of the "housekeeping" the commission may do when it considers "communities of interest."

But he said the commission isn't going in with any fixed assumptions and will be guided by the goal of getting as close as possible to the quotient. 

"What we're saying is that we will take into consideration what New Brunswickers have to say," he said.

"We will be very transparent. And the ultimate goal here is to try and achieve the 11,714 electors for a riding, which we know probably is impossible to do."

Last weekend newly elected Liberal Leader Susan Holt said she would wait to see the new map before deciding where she'll run in the next provincial election. In 2018 Holt was defeated as a candidate in Fredericton South by Green Leader David Coon.

Thériault said those considerations won't matter to the commission. 

"The redrawing of the electoral map will not be done to provide seats to anyone or any party," he said. "It will be done in the best interests of New Brunswick."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.

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