It's time to redraw P.E.I.'s electoral boundaries again
Previous efforts included no shortage of controversy, hinting at how much is at stake
Gerrymander is a wonderful, colourful bit of language.
The Oxford Canadian dictionary defines it as to "manipulate the boundaries of (a constituency etc.) so as to give undue influence to some party or class."
It's the origins of the word that truly delight: a Massachusetts governor named Gerry created a district that looked a bit like a salamander, and thus provided this gift to the English language.
What happened in 2006
The last time P.E.I.'s electoral boundaries were changed there were accusations of gerrymandering. That was back in 2006.
The Binns government rejected the electoral map put forward by the province's independent Electoral Boundaries Commission, then rejected another map developed by Elections P.E.I. before accepting one put forward by PC MLA Cletus Dunn in a private member's bill.
The Opposition Liberals, under Robert Ghiz, stormed out of the legislature in protest. The City of Charlottetown prepared to launch a lawsuit.
Those are the same electoral boundaries P.E.I. has today, which are once again under review.
District should be equal in size
The province is required to review its electoral boundaries after every third election.
The overriding principle is to achieve something approaching parity among the number of voters in each district — in other words, representation by population.
There are other factors, including municipal boundaries and accounting for communities of interest — for example, the current district of Evangeline-Miscouche was created smaller than the rest of the Island's districts to create a seat to represent the Francophone community there.
An average of 3,716 voters per district
According to P.E.I's Electoral Boundaries Act, the number of electors in each proposed district has to be within +/- 25 per cent of the average.
As of the 2015 provincial election, these are the districts which deviated the furthest from the average of 3,716 voters per district:
|District 9||York-Oyster Bed||+35%|
|District 15||West Royalty-Springvale||+22%|
|District 27||Tignish-Palmer Road||-21%|
|District 17||Kellys Cross-Cumberland||+20%|
|District 12||Charlottetown-Victoria Park||-19%|
'More accountable to the people'
Changing electoral boundaries is a re-apportioning of political power: the relative power of individual voters to elect MLAs; the power of regions and municipalities to have their interests represented in the provincial legislature. It can also pit sitting MLAs against one another as the districts they represent are carved up, amalgamated or combined in new ways.
Stratford mayor David Dunphy, who ran in District 6 in the last provincial election, said two seats based on the catchment areas of Stratford's two schools would better serve town residents. The current map divides parts of Stratford into three districts, two of which are largely rural-based.
Those two MLAs would "be more accountable to the people I think if the people they represented had common interests or common concerns or common issues," said Dunphy.
"Whereas now it's kind of a bit of a hodge-podge in terms of trying to get the right person to speak to. Because the issues that may occur in an area like Vernon River are totally different from the issues that would be faced by somebody in Stratford."
Someone is bound to be unhappy
Overall P.E.I.'s electoral map points to growth in bedroom communities like Stratford, West Royalty and York, with declines at the eastern and western ends of the Island and even within the Charlottetown core.
UPEI political science professor Don Desserud said there's a constitutional requirement to make the districts as equal as possible, but no matter where the boundaries go, if they change, someone is bound to be unhappy.
"If you take any community and ask people, where does this community begin and where does it stop? you're going to get a difference of opinion. And people are very concerned about whether their community is being represented fairly, is it identified the way they think it should be, or whether it's now being amalgamated with something else?"
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