Sask. riding boundaries unique: political scientists

The configuration of Saskatchewan's 14 federal ridings is unique in Canada, with some political observers wondering just where the lines should be drawn.

But do Saskatchewan's urban-rural ridings skew election results?

The configuration of Saskatchewan's 14 federal ridings is unique in Canada, with some political observers wondering just where the lines should be drawn.

Even though Saskatchewan's two largest cities, Regina and Saskatoon, have enough residents to create urban-only ridings, voters in both cities share their members of parliament with their rural cousins.

It is a rural-urban combination that is not seen in any other part of the country, and one observer says it is producing questionable election results.

"The results in Saskatchewan's elections suggest that something is terribly, terribly wrong," Denis Pilon, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, told CBC News Thursday.

"The Conservatives are popular in Saskatchewan, no one should deny that. But their ability to turn their votes into seats is way out of line," he added.

Pilon examined recent elections and found that, even though Conservative support ranged from 42 to 54 per cent of the vote in the province, the party's candidates captured 93 per cent of the seats — or 13 out of 14.

Pilon says he believes the outcome is strongly linked to riding boundaries which include rural areas with urban.

"It just so happens," Pilon said, "that most of the Liberal and NDP votes are concentrated in that urban area whereas the Conservatives are much stronger in the rural areas."

"It allows the Conservatives to maximize their representation," he said.

No gerrymandering

Pilon, however, rejected the notion that any form of gerrymandering or political manipulation was at play, noting that the commission that sets Saskatchewan boundaries is comprised of neutral experts.

"I wouldn't want to impugn their integrity," he said. "I think they're all fine people trying to do the best job they can."

Saskatchewan-based political scientist David Smith has been a member of the boundaries commission himself, and told CBC News it is difficult to devise an electoral map that pleases everyone.

If urban-only seats were created, he pointed out, "then we end up with gigantic [rural] seats".

Negative reaction to proposals

At one point a distribution of seats was prepared that included some city seats. However, Smith said when the commission held public meetings there was a strong negative reaction.

"The unanimous opinion, public opinion was: No good," Smith said. "And we were told several times, several times, there is no such thing as an urban interest in Saskatchewan."

Pilon said the boundaries commission members should not have felt compelled to follow the voices heard at sparsely-attended public meetings.

"They should have stuck to their guns and said we're going to divide things rurally and urbanly so that we can do what's best for the people of Saskatchewan," he said.

The next opportunity to redraw Saskatchewan's federal riding boundaries will follow the next census. However, Smith said he does not expect any major shift in population to justify changing the current approach to creating Saskatchewan's federal ridings.