OTTAWA—The first shoe has dropped in proposed changes to the electoral boundaries in Northern Ontario, and although the devil is in the details, the news that the independent electoral commission has proposed retaining 10 ridings in Northern Ontario despite a continuing drop in population is generally an unalloyed bit of good news.
Still, area representatives are remaining cautious before expressing an opinion on the newly drawn boundaries released just hours before press time Monday.
“My office and Charlie (Angus) just called me a couple of hours ago,” said Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes. “I really have to sit down and take a look at what this means for staff, our offices and most importantly accessibility for the people of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.”
Most of the electoral district that Ms. Hughes currently represents is contained within the proposed boundaries of the new riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney. Removed from the boundaries is the Highway 11 corridor to the north and the westernmost portion of the riding. Now included is Copper Cliff and Killarney to the east and south.
“If they are keeping in Copper Cliff, what impact is that going to have on rural communities?” Ms. Hughes questioned. “I have to look at that. Copper Cliff is part of Sudbury, and has different issues. Is this a good thing geographically?” Ms. Hughes maintained that she does not yet have the information she needs to make an informed decision.
“I am not saying it is a good thing, I am not saying it is a bad thing,” she said. “There is still an opportunity for suggestions and input before the final boundaries are decided.”
Ms. Hughes said that she would be consulting with her colleagues on the impact of the changes as a whole. “I really think we need to get together as a Northern caucus,” she said.
The Ontario Commission for the Redistribution of Electoral districts released the boundary proposals along with notes on the rationale they used for their decisions.
The commission noted that Ontario is slated for 15 additional electoral districts, raising the total number of ridings in the province from 106 to 121. The commission noted that it is required to apply the principles contained in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. That act directs the commission to ensure the population in each electoral district shall “as closely as reasonably possible correspond to the electoral quota for the province.” That quota number is 106,213, a number you get by dividing the provincial population by 121.
But there is that word ‘reasonable’ which gives the commission the leeway to depart from that number “where necessary or desirable in order to respect the community of interest or community identity or historical pattern, or to maintain a manageable geographic size in sparsely populated or Northern regions of the province.”
The commission noted that consideration of those factors, and the 25 percent leeway that allows deviation (in this case between 79,660 and 132,766), and taking into account that the North covers fully 87.77 percent of the province, it would not enforce strict adherence to the quota.
Under strict adherence to the quota, Northern Ontario would have lost two ridings. The commission decided to redraw the lines, retaining 10 seats in the North.
“The commission is of the view that it is reasonable to have 10 electoral districts for close to 88 percent of the area of the province, particularly when there remain 111 electoral districts to assign to the rest of the province,” read the published commission notes.
Comments on the new boundaries can be directed to the commission at a number of public hearings. The closest to Manitoulin are scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 11 at Tom Davies Square in Sudbury or on Tuesday, October 16 at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, Garland Room, 200 Brady Street, North Bay.