Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pushing Boundaries – Seat Redistribution

The Ontario Federal Elections Boundary Commission has released a revised report of its proposed boundaries for the next Canadian election. Hearings will take place in the House of Commons on the new boundaries. I sincerely doubt that these MPs will have a substantial impact on the future ridings. It would look problematic if MPs intervened and succeeded in changing the boundaries arrived at after extensive public consultations. The media consensus seems to be these will be the boundaries.

The Commission’s report is available here, but I can summarize some of the major points. Ontario has been allocated 121 seats in the next Parliament, which is an increase of 15. These fifteen seats were distributed to areas that have experienced population growth and require new districts to account for the growing population. Many ridings in rural Ontario have remained essentially unchanged. The Commission took a regional approach to adding seats: Brampton received two new seats, as did Durham, Markham, and Toronto while Mississauga, Cambridge, Hamilton, Oakville, Ottawa, Simcoe and York each received one.

The ridings around the GTHA (Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area) have seen significant changes where population growth has been the greatest. The three new ridings in Peel will significantly shift the political landscape. Areas of Toronto saw a major redesign of its political boundaries. In particular the region in the downtown with the major condominium development has a new riding that has broken apart Trinity-Spadina.

Proposed Federal Boundaries for Brampton and Mississauga

This is the map of the latest proposal for Brampton and Mississauga. Other maps are available here. The major difference here compared to the original proposal from last year is the removal of Malton from the easternmost Brampton riding. Currently Bramalea-Gore-Malton includes Malton and the old Gore region of Brampton, along with parts of Bramalea. In the new map Brampton East will only include Brampton territory. Brampton-Springdale and Brampton South-Mississauga are gone and instead they have been replaced by Brampton Centre and Brampton North. In my riding, Brampton West, the riding has been split in half along Queen Street for the most part. Brampton West now consists of Brampton north of downtown and north of Queen Street and the new riding of Brampton South is the southwestern quadrant of the city.

Overall I am quite happy with the Brampton map. Compared to the initial map put forward this one is much better. In previous posts I’ve emphasized the importance of voter equality: each riding should have as equal a population as possible. The new Brampton ridings are very close to the provincial quota of 106,000. This won’t be true for long, but at least the Commission got that part right. During the public event I attended there seemed to be two big issues: the inclusion of Malton within Brampton and splitting downtown into three ridings. Excluding Malton freed the Commission to redraw the lines to put all of downtown in one riding. It was a simple and effective fix.

Sadly, this came at a cost. The ridings in Mississauga are badly overpopulated now. Each one is at least 10% over quota. The largest, Mississauga East-Cooksville is 14.67% over quota. This Commission did not make voter equality a fundamental point and therefore the result are ridings that vary in population size from Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing with 79,801 people (-24.87%) to Brant with 132,443 (+24.70%).

Given the changes in political geography people have began to scrutinize the new maps to discover the potential impact on the next federal election. The best breakdown I’ve seen so far comes from a group called Poll Maps. At that link you can take a look at the party breakdown if an election was held today in that area with the voting results from 2011 or 2008. In summary, if in 2011 the Conservatives, NDP, Liberals, Green and Bloc get the exact same number of votes in the exact same places there result would be 189 seats for the Conservatives, 108 for the NDP, 36 for the Liberals, 4 for the Bloc and 1 for the Greens. I have read panicked commentary that this means the Conservatives are guaranteed to win the next election. The CPC won in 2011 because they won swings ridings in the suburbs and the suburbs received most of the new seats. If you ran the 2004 elections numbers it would look good for the Liberals. The voting will change, it is inevitable. The system is not rigged.

Now a more painful process begins. The political parties and local activists will have to build up new organizations and memberships to get ready to fight the next campaign. For sitting MPs they will have to pick where they want to run, which may lead to tough nomination fights, or incumbents running against each other.

Finally, we have to do this process on a provincial level. The Ontario seats are badly out of alignment with each other. As I said, my riding, Brampton West, is so big that it was split in two. However, provincially there is no plan to address this imbalance. With a minority government I fear that not much will be done in the near future, but pressure should be applied to address this problem.

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