Boundaries largely unchanged, but Nickel Belt will lose Nipissing First Nation
Most of the major changes proposed to federal electoral boundaries in Northern Ontario have been dropped, Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle announced this week.
The changes were dropped followed a October 2012 meeting in Sudbury during which speaker after speaker made clear their objections to the changes.
“I congratulate the electoral commission for still keeping the ten northern ridings and for dropping the idea of a Nickel Belt-Timiskaming riding that it initially thought had common agriculture and language interests,” said Gravelle, in a press release. “Municipalities and citizens in the hearings and in hundreds of letters made it clear that the real common interest was with Greater Sudbury and Nickel Belt.”
Had the proposed changes gone through, some residents in Walden would have been in the same electoral district as White River, more than 600 kilometres away.
That was among concerns raised by about 10 speakers at an Oct. 11 public meeting on the changes. MPs, municipal politicians and some members of the public all said they appreciated the fact the electoral commission maintained the North's 10 seats. Under federal guidelines, the North only warrants eight seats.
But under the revised boundary 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.
“We think having 10 seats in the North is paramount,” said Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault, speaking at Tom Davies Square at the October meeting. “Thank you for that.”
But Thibeault said leaving the existing boundaries as they are is a far better plan than going with the proposed changes.
“The people in the western part of my riding are all part of the City of Greater Sudbury and have a lot more in common with those who live in the city, which is a 15-minute drive, than they would with people who live in White River, a 609-kilometre drive that can take more than seven hours – in good weather,” Thibeault said. “It makes no sense to sever those people from the riding, or from the rest of Greater Sudbury.”
Thibeault’s comments were echoed by Gravelle, whose Nickel Belt riding would have lost several Sudbury communities to the new Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney riding and would gain areas to the east toward Nipissing and North Bay.
“Those communities around Sudbury that you propose moving to Algoma – Coniston, part of Wahnipitae, Dowling, Levack, Onaping — they are all towns in the City of Greater Sudbury,” Gravelle said. “To be severed from Greater Sudbury makes no sense, and goes against the realities of the geographical, political, business and social networks or natural paths that currently exist.”
But Justice George Valin, who chaired the October meeting, said at the time the goal was 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. Under federal law, each riding shouldn’t fall short or exceed the 106,213 population target by more than 25 per cent.
The new Algoma-Manitoulin-Killarney riding would have had a population of 79,708 – just barely within the 25 per cent range targeted by the electoral commission. The Nickel Belt-Timiskaming riding would have had 93,707 people, while Sudbury would have numbered 85,263. While the new ridings cut across municipal boundaries, Valin said the commission had little choice.
“I appreciate your concerns,” Valin said. “But do you have any suggestions how we can do it?”
Finding the right balance isn’t easy, he said, when the North “only has enough population to justify eight seats.”
The MPs argued an exception should be made similar to the one made for Kenora, a riding with only 55,000 people, but that covers an area about the same size as Germany.
That argument won the day in the end. Staying put in Nickel Belt are Killarney, Alban, Coniston and everything west of Chelmsford.
“What started out as a NDP-initiated campaign to keep the 10 northern ridings and the status quo to our own ridings quickly became a much bigger northern fight once the proposed changes were made known,” Gravelle said.
Nickel Belt will still lose Nipissing First Nation (Garden Village) between Sturgeon Falls and North Bay that the commission said had inadvertently been divided by the previous commission between the electoral districts of Nickel Belt and Nipissing-Timiskaming. Foleyet will now move to Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.
Members of Parliament have one final chance in Parliamentary committee to object to the final proposal before the commission makes a final decision -- likely this fall, with changes to take effect in the next federal election expected in 2015.
To see a detailed map of the proposed changes, go to www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca.