Tuesday, August 28, 2012

New Boundaries and Voter Inequality

On Monday the Electoral Boundaries Commission of Ontario released its report for its proposal on the future election map of the province. As mentioned in previous posts, the House of Commons passed the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act which gave Ontario fifteen new ridings, bringing the total to 121, from 106. These seats were added to address the growing population. Canada’s strange rules in regards to electoral ridings means that it is difficult or impossible to reduce the number of seats in the smaller/shrinking provinces, therefore to reduce the inequalities between citizens in different provinces new seats must be added.

Adding fifteen seats and the tremendous growth within Ontario means that the boundaries needed to shift dramatically in a lot of different places. Most of the change fell within the suburbs around Toronto, but many ridings were affected across the province.

In our parliamentary system the electoral boundaries for our MPs are critical in shaping our representation. If you live in an urban area and the commission attached a sprawling area of rural farmland, that will change the voting patterns and who represents you in the House of Commons. These Commissions work in a very difficult area: trying to rework people’s local identities into larger political units fairly. Fair is obviously up to interpretation.

Here are some maps from the proposed new boundaries, or you can go to this link for an interactive map and find your new riding. 

The goal of the Commission was to create ridings that came as close as possible to matching the provincial quota (106,213). This number was reached by dividing the population of Ontario by 121 seats. The Commission was permitted a +/- 25% variance on the quota to ensure some level of fairness and practicality. This rule was ignored only in the creation of the riding of Kenora, a riding in remote northwestern Ontario, and across Northern Ontario in general to improve representation in the massive area of the province.

Putting the North aside, there are other major problems on the map. The Commission has favoured certain areas over others. Toronto, for example, is composed mostly of ridings with a population less than 106,213. The suburbs around Toronto on the other hand, particularly in my home region of Peel are over 106,213. For example, the riding of Toronto Centre and Toronto North are 5.98% and 10.3% below the quota, while in Peel all the Mississauga ridings exceed the quota by between 3.57% and 9.66%. This might not sound like much, but it means that a voter in Toronto North is the same as 1.22 voters in Mississauga East-Cooksville, meaning it takes more people to have the same effect, weakening the power of their vote. Etobicoke is similarly problematic, as is Brampton. Here is a website that discusses voter inequality.

While voter equality is problematic on its own, I am more concerned about the logic behind these decisions. In my new riding, Brampton South, we are already 7.74% over the provincial quota. Over the next decade (when boundaries will be reconsidered again) a tremendous amount of western Brampton is due to be developed. Which means the 7.74% surplus at the moment may be more like 15, or 20% in ten years time. The British Columbia Commission made some ridings under the quota where they expect growth.

My second home, Niagara, has also seen a major facelift. Niagara has the problem of several small-medium cities, which makes the construction of ridings difficult. Niagara West – Glanbrook, now Niagara West, has taken Thorold and south St. Catharines from the riding Welland and added it to its own. Welland riding has added Fort Erie, and now Niagara Falls consists of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Falls. St. Catharines remains unchanged. I am not an expert, and have not put the time into the consideration into the matter yet, but the NDP may have been seriously hurt, or helped by the change. The addition of Thorold, very NDP friendly, to Niagara West, may make the riding competitive for them, and Fort Erie’s addition to Welland-Fort Erie may not substantially affect the outcome there.

Other parts of the map raise questions in my mind, such as the Kitchen-Waterloo area, and the Durham region. I look forward to what Earl Washburn and perhaps Eric Grenier have to say about these changes and the impact they might have on politics and the 2015 federal election.

The good news is that this being a democracy, the Commission wants public consultation on the proposed map. If you are concerned about the boundaries in your area, you can attend a meeting, submit a written comment, and/or make a presentation, if you are so inclined. You can find the details here. Given my meddlesome nature, I plan to submit a criticism to the Commission when it visits Brampton, and attend if possible. Remember, decisions are made by those who show up, if there is something with the new map, like voter inequality, let the Commission know.

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