Lobbying effort should aim for a return to 11 ridings

The federal riding review is complete and the very good news is that Northern Ontario maintains its 10 seats in the House of Commons. (This is in contrast to southern Ontario, primarily the Greater Toronto Area, where 15 new seats are being added to reflect the region’s growth.)

Riding boundaries come up for review automatically following each census. The notion is for each Member of Parliament (MP) to reflect more or less the same number of constituents.

This idea falls apart in the Maritime provinces where there is constitutionally guaranteed minimal representation which gives these provinces numbers of MPs out of proportion to their populations.

The same concept, without the guarantee afforded by the Canadian constitution, is this time being afforded to Ontario’s North. In the recent past, Northern Ontario has lost two ridings to redistribution following census counts.

Maintaining the status quo this time may be in part the result of the province’s decision a decade ago to not follow the federal model, which they are supposed to do, and to hold the line at the number of provincial ridings at that time: 11 of them. The Ottawa government did indeed take away another Northern Ontario riding after that but the Ontario government held firm to its commitment to Northern citizens and so the count remains at 11 provincial seats and 10 federal ones.

In the case of our own riding, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing (AMK) the major changes are the addition of St. Joseph’s Island to the southwestern edge of the riding (an echo of the old Algoma East riding of which St. Joe’s Island was also a part), the loss of the mining town of Manitouwadge to the Thunder Bay-Superior North and the addition of a finger of Ontario in the mid North area of the riding that contains the railway community of Foleyet.

The major riding changes that had been proposed in the first draft that would have included Lively, also bringing Killarney in and losing the far Northern area that includes Hearst, Kapuskasing and Moonbeam, were dropped following community hearings, especially in the riding’s Northern reaches.

Currently of the 11 ridings, three are held by Conservative MPs and the balance by NDP Members of Parliament.

Doubtless the political interests of both sitting MPs together with those who elected them come into play as they all know precisely the particular areas of their ridings that helped the most to bring them to or keep them in office so there is bound to be some natural reluctance to see these areas, in particular, hived off to become part of a neighbouring riding and it’s a fairly safe bet that there was some politics in play to see all 10 Northern ridings with minimum changes.

In this end of AMK, though, it’s good to see St. Joseph’s Island added back into the riding so the vast majority of the North Channel can be represented by the same MP. It was in this way, more than a quarter century and two MPs ago, that then-MP Dr. Maurice Foster was able to help secure top-notch marine facilities at Thessalon, Blind River and Little Current. (Spanish, around the same time, received primary funding for its marina from the province.)

If anything, Northern Ontario should model the province and move back to 11 ridings, mirroring Queen’s Park. It’s something to lobby for between now and the next census.