Citizen input needed to keep Northern voices in Ottawa

The April 30 deadline the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission (Ontario) has imposed on citizens who may wish to comment on riding boundary changes is little more than two weeks away.

The process works this way: after every census when information concerning the distribution of Canadians across this large country is as accurate as possible, federal riding boundaries are reconsidered in the interests of maintaining voter numbers as similar as possible in every riding.

That is why, over the past 20 years, the number of Northern Ontario ridings has fallen from 14 to the current 10. As riding boundaries are changed, ridings are eliminated in the process in an effort toward the national equalization of voter numbers, riding by riding.

In the case of each of the four ridings that have disappeared in the North, with the remaining Northern jurisdictions becoming correspondingly larger, the ridings that have been taken away from the North have been reassigned to southern Ontario in regions experiencing significant population increases. In any event, the number of seats in the House of Commons in Ottawa has remained the same for some time with this kind of juggling taking place in other provinces as well.

What is somewhat different this time is the fact that Elections Canada has also given notice of its intention to add 10 new ridings to Ontario (it’s an extremely safe assumption that this means southern Ontario) in time for the next federal election which will be held in 2015.

The question arises, then, whether at least some of these 10 new ridings will come at the expense of even more Northern voices in Ottawa.

In a fairly short timeframe, our own riding has changed from Algoma East (which included, basically, the North Shore as far west as Thessalon, Blind River, Elliot Lake, Espanola, and along Highway 17 to Nairn Centre, Manitoulin Island and Killarney.

The next incarnation of our riding was called Algoma-Manitoulin (the provincial riding still bears this name) and included all of the old riding’s territory minus Killarney and Nairn Centre, more North Shore communities going west towards Sault Ste. Marie, a portion of the east side of Sault Ste. Marie and then around the Soo to include the Lake Superior shoreline communities of Wawa and White River and the central North towns of Chapleau, Hornepayne and Manitouwadge.

And then, about eight years ago, the riding was once again stretched and re-named Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and includes everything in the previous riding plus the Highway 11 North towns of Hearst and Kapuskasing and surrounding areas.

In the case of each of these changes, the North has lost a riding through redistribution as bits and pieces of former ridings are tacked on to the remaining ones which the lost riding had previously bordered.

And here we go again.

Our own riding, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, is probably the most vulnerable one in Northeastern Ontario if it is the intention of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission to further attempt to equalize voter numbers in ridings nationally.

The old Algoma East part of the riding, or most of it, could be attached to the Nickel Belt riding. Part of the Lake Superior shoreline part of the riding could be attached to the riding of Sault Ste. Marie while the more northerly area that includes Manitouwadge could be reassigned to one of the Thunder Bay ridings and the Highway 11 North areas could easily become part of the Timmins-James Bay riding.

This is all possible and may well make sense to any bean counters who are involved in this review—further complicated, we must not forget, by the addition in Ontario of 10 more ridings.

In practical terms, at least one of those new ridings should, in fact, be designated for Northeastern Ontario; one that could run east to Lake Superior and include the resource-based communities of Wawa, White River, Manitouwadge as well as the centrally North communities of Chapleau and Hornepayne and the northerly towns of Kapuskasing and Hearst.

This would be a manageable area for an MP and it would make a reconstituted Algoma-Manitoulin far more manageable for our MP.

To put things in perspective, it takes a half-day to drive from Elliot Lake up to Hearst and driving is the only way to access the more remote communities in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.

While it is a stretch to think that ridings might be replaced in the North, at the very least citizens should be heard from by the Federal Elections Boundary Commission (Ontario) in order to maintain the status quo of 10 MPs representing the North.

If there are plans to redistribute the ridings, perhaps to eliminate one or more, these proposals will be published in the local press and meetings held for community input.

But before any of this happens, and until the end of April, there is the opportunity for input on the process in what, in our own riding’s case, could well be a pre-emptive strike as the more citizens heard from prior to April 30, the better.

The Commission is encouraging everyone to submit their comments, by mail or email, before April 30 and information on the process is available at www.federal-redistribution.ca.

For those people not comfortable with only email access or accessing information via this website, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes’ offices can be contacted for assistance.

The riding office in Elliot Lake has a toll-free number: 1-800-463-3335 and Ms. Hughes’ Ottawa office can be reached by calling (613)996-5376.

In any event, it will likely be useful to Ms. Hughes if she is copied, via mail or email, with any correspondence with the Federal Riding Boundaries Commission in defence of maintaining Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing or supporting the creation of an additional Northern riding.

Mail can be sent to her office, without stamps, simply addressed to: Carol Hughes, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing Member of Parliament, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario.