“They don’t have a clue what they’re doing,” said Claude Gravel, Nickel Belt MP, on the phone from Newfoundland, where the NDP caucus is gathering. “If they had a clue about Nickel Belt, I don’t think they would have lumped Onaping Falls in with Killarney.”
Under a plan to redraw federal electoral boundaries to better reflect population, parts of Greater Sudbury would be spread among three federal ridings. 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 while residents in Garson, Valley East and Coniston would become part of another new riding, Nickel Belt-Timiskaming. That riding would extend east to West Nipissing and north almost to Kirkland Lake.
Ontario as a whole is getting an extra 15 seats – bringing the total to 121 – and to achieve population balance, the Federal Electoral Commission aimed to get each riding as close as possible to 106,000 residents. The lone exception is Kenora, currently held by Tory MP Greg Rickford.
Justice George Valin, who chaired the electoral commission’s efforts in Ontario, said Aug. 28 that Kenora was a unique situation and deserved the exceptional circumstances designation.
“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 Gravelle said many ridings in the North are huge geographically and present huge challenges to MPs who want to make sure residents have access to them.
“I think the people who have drawn these boundary lines probably have never been to Northern Ontario,” Gravelle said.
“Northern Ontario should be given special designation as a whole, because you’re never going to get 10 ridings that average 106,000 in population. It’s just not going to happen.
“We should be given special designation and divided along community lines, along linguistic lines, and where it makes good common sense – and political sense ... But taking away places like Dowling, Levack and Gogama and lumping them in with Algoma, Manitoulin and Killarney just doesn’t make any political or common sense.”
“And giving Nickel Belt New Liskeard just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Carol Hughes, MP for the current riding of Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, sounded a more cautious note. She said she needed time to review the proposals in detail, but said she also worried that one MP couldn’t properly represent people living in such a huge geographical area.
“We do have to keep in mind that these are proposals and we’ll have an opportunity to raise concerns and changes at the upcoming hearings,” Hughes said, also from Newfoundland.
“We had a brief discussion on this as a northern caucus (Aug. 29) and we will have another discussion on this next week as we meet in Newfoundland for our caucus retreat ... We need to get a handle of what these changes would mean for all the ridings across Northern Ontario, and not just our own ridings.”
But her first reaction is to question whether, on a practical level, MPs could be responsive to the needs of people in such a huge area, especially at a time when MPs' budgets are being cut by $15,000 over the next three years.
“The geographical challenges this would pose would be huge, especially with the restrictions we have on our budgets in Parliament,” she said. “Those things have to be taken into consideration, whether these would be serviceable ridings. I have to take a look at how much of Copper Cliff and Rayside (Balfour) is being handed over to me. And does this mean that the Greater City of Sudbury (sic) now has three MPs servicing that area?”
She also opposes special status for Kenora – a Tory riding – when NDP ridings that are geographically large are being expanded to get them closer to the 106,000 average.
“We have to question the fact that Kenora only has a population of 53,000 in its riding, whereas everyone else they're basing it on getting is closer to 89,000 or 90,000.”
For his part, Valin said there was solid reasoning behind the design of the new ridings.
“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 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 agricultur 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.”
It’s not all bad news, Hughes said. While they would have preferred the North get an 11th seat, at least the status quo was maintained.
“Certainly, we’re extremely happy that we haven’t lost an MP in Northern Ontario,” she said.
But Gravelle said the entire process needs to be reconsidered.
“My main concern right now is having Dowling, Onaping, Cartier and Levack being lumped in with Killarney, Algoma and Manitoulin. It would be very tough for that MP. The common sense is not there.”
“(And) Sudbury would be represented by three different MPs. Where’s the common sense?”
Under Canadian law, electoral boundaries must be adjusted after every second census. The most recent was the 2011 Census, prompting the review. The goal is to ensure each riding doesn’t fall short or exceed the 106,213 population target by more than 25 per cent.
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. For full details of the changes, go to www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca.