NDP, Wildrose ask electoral boundaries commission to allow more time for public input

In a rare team up, the NDP and Wildrose are asking Canada’s electoral boundary commission for more consultations on potentially controversial changes to riding boundaries.

Brian Mason and Nathan Cooper, House leaders for the NDP government and Wildrose Opposition respectively, last week sent a letter to the commission’s chair, Justice Myra Bielby, asking to extend the deadline for written submissions and increase the number of planned public meetings.

Recommendations in the May report would see Edmonton, Calgary and the Airdrie-Cochrane area each receive an additional riding, while the number of rural ridings would go down by three to account for population shifts toward urban areas.

“People have seen those boundaries, and we think it’s important to have more community input before they’re finalized,” Mason told reporters Monday.

The number of seats in the legislature would stay the same, at 87. The commision will make its final report by the end of October.

Bielby said in an interview Monday that she had already decided to extend the deadline for written submissions from July 8 to July 16. There are currently five public meetings scheduled for Edmonton, Calgary, Brooks, Grande Prairie and Vermilion in the week of July 17.

The commission has extended the running time for the Calgary and Edmonton meetings due to demand from potential presenters and is prepared to do so in the other meetings if needed, she said.

The previous boundaries commission, in 2009-2010, held its second round of meetings in nine municipalities. There has been no request yet from other communities to schedule hearings, said Bielby.

Cooper acknowledged in an interview that while the NDP and Wildrose share concerns about process, they have different issues in regard to the commission’s report.

Wildrose, whose MLAs almost exclusively hold rural seats, has raised concerns that the proposed changes will lead to massive, unwieldy ridings that will be difficult for MLAs to represent.

“For our caucus, this is about effective representation, not just equal representation,” said Cooper.

The NDP as a party has appeared to be supportive of the commission’s intent to accommodate urban growth.

Mason suggested the bigger question at play is “are community interests being kept together?”

A pair of the proposed new rural ridings — Drumheller-Strathmore and Drayton Valley-Rocky Mountain House — have population figures 15 per cent higher than the provincial average. The maximum variance, except for northern ridings, is 25 per cent, while the commission aimed to minimize the variance to under five per cent in a majority of ridings.

Bielby said the large variance in those two ridings is designed to account for future population growth patters. By the time of the next redistribution, after two elections, those seats are expected to be at the average population.

“Within eight to 10 years, they will be right on the number. And I think there’s some advantage to the constituents in the area because of that, because it’s less likely that the next electoral boundaries commission will feel the need to deal with them,” she said.




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