Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Brampton’s Boundaries and America Votes

It is election day in the U.S. Normally I follow American elections very closely and come up with my own complicated predictions and rationalizations. However, about midway through the Republican primaries I lost all interest in the proceedings. Perhaps it is because I would rather invest more time in Canadian, Ontarian and GTA issues, or that the tired race between Obama and Romney has been going on for nearly two years. Frankly, I am not entirely sure who I would vote for in this election if I were an American citizen. It seems like a fine time to focus on other races (Senate, House, state-level), or implement the none-of-the-above choice.

Regardless of who ultimately wins I simply hope we know soon. The worst case scenario is that the election has an unclear result for days or weeks. Several states are actually incapable of a recount, namely Virginia. I hope we know by tomorrow morning who won. Anything else would be very worrying. There is also a slight chance Obama and Romney will tie in the Electoral College, or one will win the popular vote, but lose the election. All of these results would be very damaging to the health of America’s politics and democracy.

If it was demanded of me I would predict President Barack Obama will be re-elected. I have prepared a map from David Leip’s US Elections website for my map.

On Thursday and Friday of last week the Ontario Boundary Commission was in Brampton to hear the testimony from citizens in the area on their proposed map for the future federal ridings in this province. As I mentioned previously there are serious problems in the map, the most prominent of which was the inattention the Commission gave to the issue of voter equality. The proposed map respects the borders of the municipalities and regions in the province.

To address my concerns I mentioned that the Brampton ridings should be made smaller and closer to the ideal quotient size of 106,213. I was the fourth person to offer testimony to the Commission on Friday. The first was a presentation by the Mayor, Susan Fennel, on behalf of the city government. The main argument of the city was that the small portion of Malton (a community in Mississauga) joined to Brampton-Gore should be removed to create Brampton-only ridings. The removal would cause a fairly large population imbalance, but that was not addressed.

When I spoke I stated that I strongly disagreed with the Mayor’s presentation. Leave it to me to make enemies in high places. Below are the remarks I made to the commission.

The changes proposed for Brampton West, and the Region of Peel as a whole are insufficient to address problems in regard to voter equality. The proposed ridings in Brampton and Mississauga are all oversized. Most of the ridings are about 5-10% above the Ontario quota. While this fits within the tolerances as outlined in the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act I feel these considerations fail to account for the conditions and peculiarities of Peel.

Census projections state that the rapid growth in these cities will continue. Planning documents from the Regional Municipality and municipalities suggest development of agricultural and vacant lands into residential areas and intensification of existing zones will continue causing dramatic increases in population in coming years.

As these riding adjustments will be locked in for ten years these inequalities will only become more extreme over time. As a result any issues now will only be magnified in time. Past may prove prologue in Brampton where Brampton West eventually grew to be the second most populous riding in the country.

In my proposed riding, Brampton South, the old southern core is attached to vast western areas of the city. Driving westward on Steeles Avenue it is very easy to see that Brampton South will soon exceed the population in the commission’s report. The result will be my voice as a citizen will be weaker and more diffuse than my peers in Toronto’s downtown or in the many rural ridings in the province.

While community continuity and integrity is beneficial it is not an absolute good, especially weighed against the relative power of votes. Is it so important that Brampton’s five ridings not stray into neighbouring jurisdictions? Shouldn’t the greater concern be whether or not citizens in Brampton are heard as clearly as those in other ridings?

In British Columbia their boundary commission created ridings that were below the population quota in booming suburbs and within Vancouver. Their stated reason was that they wanted to account for projected growth in the area. The data the Ontario Boundary Commission used is based upon the 2011census. Even in that short time Brampton has grown in population. The 7.74% total over-quota in Brampton South is an underestimation of the true gap. If these ridings are already overpopulated now, where will they be when the next commission meets after 2021? Will Brampton voters once again be faced with having votes that count less than half as much as their fellow Ontarians?

From what I understand the Commission tried to preserve municipalities and worked within regions to establish these boundaries. The result has been to disempower certain voters at the expense of others for the sake of preserving civic boundaries that have little to do with federal representation. I am confident as a voter that residents of places like Mississauga and Brampton would much prefer to have an equal voice than not share their riding with those in Halton, or Caledon.

I cannot offer any concrete solutions, but perhaps parts of western Brampton should be joined to ridings in Halton, or northern Brampton joined with Caledon to bring the city’s ridings closer to equal distribution internally and compared to the provincial quota.

Boundary commissions in the other provinces have committed to the value of voter equality. Only 52% of ridings in Ontario are within the 0-4.99% deviation range from the quota of 106,213. Other provinces, particularly in western Canada, have much more equal ridings. In Saskatchewan, Quebec, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island have all strived to achieve a high level of voter equality; in Alberta 100% of their ridings fit within the 0-4.99% range. The 15 seats were added to Ontario to address voter inequality, the other large provinces have worked to achieve this outcome. It would be a shame if these new seats failed to actually address the problem they were created to correct due to poor boundary implementation.

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. The new Brampton West is worse off with a population 8.64% over-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 current 7.74% or 8.64% surplus may be more like 75, or 100% in ten years time. Therefore I ask the commission to reconsider the proposed boundaries in Brampton and Mississauga. Recognize the fact that this is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. These ridings will only become more disproportionately overpopulated in time undermining the principle of one person, one vote. Ridings that more closely meet the 106,213 person quota, or perhaps slightly below it, would help ensure that voters in Peel are as well represented as those elsewhere in the province.

Thank you.

No comments: