Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Riding changes could make Green blue

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OTTAWA -- Elizabeth May made history a year ago when she became the first Green party MP elected to Canada's Parliament.

The Green leader even ousted a sitting cabinet minister to do it.

May's win wasn't even really a squeaker. She bested Conservative Gary Lunn by more than 7,000 votes.

But she is now worried the government will try to keep her from winning again by gerrymandering the riding during redistribution.

Elections Canada has appointed 10 commissions, one in each province, to oversee the process of trying to set new riding boundaries. (Territories only have one seat each, so there is no redistribution in any of them.)

Redistribution has to happen every 10 years and on the surface is a pretty boring exercise. As different ridings grow at different rates, the boundaries shift to reflect the change and keep the population of all the ridings in each province approximately even.

But in an era when political parties have so much data on individual voters and know so much about how all of us vote, it is easier than ever for the process to become rife with corruption.

It is therefore more important than ever for the process to be as open and fair as possible.

May's concern arose from a newsletter sent by the Conservative riding association in her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands last fall. In the letter, the riding association's election-planning chairman, Bruce Hallsor, points out redistribution of the riding could work in the Conservatives' favour.

In the newsletter, Hallsor points out three areas of the riding he thinks will be moved out during redistribution and notes if those polls weren't part of Saanich-Gulf Islands, Lunn would have won the election. Which means if those areas are moved out, in 2015 the Conservatives will have a better chance of beating May.

It's important to note Hallsor was merely speculating. However, he did say the Conservatives will attend public hearings on redistribution and implied the recommendations they will push for will be to the benefit of the Conservatives. For Hallsor, that is just good politics.

It may be, but it sounds horribly bad for democracy when we are even discussing changing riding boundaries based on politics.

Thankfully, Hallsor and other partisans only get to have their say; they don't get to make the decisions.

The new boundaries are decided by three-member commissions in every province. At least one public hearing has to be held in each province before they have compiled their reports in February 2013. The new boundaries will be finalized in September 2013 and will be in place for the next election in 2015.

The commissions solicited public input until Friday and are now working on creating their initial maps. Public hearings will be scheduled once the initial suggestions are complete.

Four provinces will get extra seats -- Ontario will add 15 new seats, B.C. and Alberta will both get six more and Quebec will get three. Manitoba will keep its 14 seats but the boundaries are sure to change. Population growth is rampant in ridings such as Provencher and Portage-Lisgar, which were already the two most heavily populated ridings in Manitoba.

In Winnipeg, suburban ridings such as Winnipeg South and Kildonan-St. Paul are sure to have grown, while inner-city ridings such as Winnipeg North and Winnipeg Centre won't have grown much at all.

In Manitoba, the commission is led by Manitoba Court of Appeal Judge Richard Chartier. Brandon University politics Prof. Kelly Saunders and University of Manitoba professor emeritus Paul Thomas will join him.

More information on the process and announcements of the interim map and the public hearing date or dates will be posted online (http://www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca/).

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2012 A7

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