Under the plan, residents in areas such as Lively, Levack, Onaping and Dowling would become part of a new, geographically huge riding called Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney. Sudbury riding, meanwhile, would shrink considerably in size.
And residents in Garson, Valley East and Coniston would become part of another new riding, Nickel Belt-Timiskaming, which would extend east to West Nipissing and north almost to Kirkland Lake.
While Ontario as a whole is getting an extra 15 seats – bringing the total to 121 – none are being added in the North, since most population growth is taking place in southern Ontario.
Justice George Valin, who chaired the electoral commission’s efforts in Ontario, said the goal is to achieve balance in the ridings. Since the provincial population has increased to 12,861,000, with 121 seats, each riding should average about 106,213 voters.
“In a perfect world, all 121 ridings would have that number of people in it,” Valin said. “But that’s impossible to achieve, particularly in the North. So that’s what causes the redistribution.”
The law requires the boundaries be adjusted after every second census, he said. The most recent was the 2011 Census, prompting the review of the electoral boundaries. The goal is to ensure each riding doesn’t fall short or exceed the 106,213 population target by more than 25 per cent.
“It’s tough to justify 10 electoral districts in the North, on a population basis,” Valin said. “But the North occupies more than 87 per cent of the land mass in Ontario, and we think it should have a minimum of 10 electoral districts.”
The only way a riding could exceed or fall short of the population target is if the commission determines that there are “exceptional circumstances,” he said.
“That determination was made for Kenora – which only has a population of 53,000, which is only half of what it should be,” Valin said. “But it also occupies a land mass that is bigger than Germany. It’s a huge geographical entity.”
But Kenora is the lone exception, and so the ridings in northeastern Ontario had to be changed to get within the target range, he said.
The new Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney riding has a population of 79,708 – just barely within the 25 per cent range targeted by the electoral commission.
“We took a little from Sudbury, and we took a little from Nickel Belt to achieve that,” Valin said.
The Nickel Belt-Timiskaming riding would have 93,707 people, while Sudbury would number 85,263. While the new ridings cut across municipal boundaries, Valin said residents share demographics.
“There are communities that share an interest in agriculture,” he said “There is agricultural in West Nipissing, there is a big agricultural component in the New Liskeard area, as well as in the Valley area of Sudbury ... There are also significant Franco-Ontarian populations in those three areas.”
While not perfect, Valin said the commission was successful in balancing the principal of representation by population, while recognizing the North’s unique geographic realities.
“You have to understand something – the North is huge,” he said.
A public hearing on the proposed changes for Sudbury and area is scheduled on Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. at Tom Davies Square. Valin expects there will be a few complaints.
“I’m sure at the public hearings, we will hear concerns, but there is some sense to what we are proposing,” he said. “We could take something out of Nickel Belt-Temiskaming and jam it back into Sudbury. But we feel that will fragment the farming community north and east of the City of Greater Sudbury.”
Current Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle and Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault were on vacation and weren’t available to comment, their spokespeople told Northern Life on Aug. 28.
For full details of the changes, go to www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca.