As I drove through Saskatchewan yesterday listening to John Gormely’s Talk Radio Program, the topic du jour was Federal Electoral Boundary Redistribution. Almost a month to the day that Albertans received the interim report of the Boundary Review Commission, Saskatchewanians were now reacting to what their proposed federal electoral districts might soon look like.
A commonality between the approaches taken by both panels seems to be an inclination away from the “rurban” constituencies that have existed, in the case of Edmonton, for the last decade. A “rurban” riding consists of a hub located in a large city and spokes comprised of a suburban city and/or rural areas. Another commonality is the prognostication as to what the proposed boundaries might mean for each party’s electoral prospects and the inevitable whining thereafter by those who feel disadvantaged electorally.
I have publically stated that it is inappropriate for Members of Parliament to actively lobby for or against a particular electoral map or configuration. This has both an ethical and a practical aspect. Ethically, I believe that MPs, who intend to run again, are in a complete conflict of interest when lobbying for or against a certain boundary configuration and therefore ought to recuse themselves from a conflict, real or perceived. If I were to make a submission to the Boundary Commission, which if accepted, assisted in a narrow electoral victory, certainly allegations of gerrymander would follow thereafter.
But, a more practical political consideration is that changed boundaries mean that some current supporters will be represented by someone else following redistribution. If I were to attend before the Boundary Review and suggest that an appropriate electoral district ought to consist of Neighborhoods: A B C D and E but not F and G from the current electoral district, how does that make my volunteers and supporters in F and G feel?? Having toiled to get me elected twice (some would say an overwhelming task!) their MP has now publically stated he no longer wants to represent them! This approach is especially perilous if the Boundary Commission were to reject my submission and accordingly I would be left with certain party faithful after announcing that I was prepared to jettison them.
This problem is inevitable in a situation like in Alberta, where the province is getting six additional seats via this redistribution, which means that each electoral district is getting approximately 20% smaller.
As I believe it inappropriate for MPs to comment on specific boundary alignments, I have and will limit my comments to the process generally.
Politicos from all parties are calculating what the proposed boundaries might mean for their electoral prospects. They are wasting their time if they believe they might be able to influence either the process or the final map. Boundary realignment is deliberately farmed out to an independent commission to remove it from the political process and potential political manipulation. An independent commission headed by a Superior Court Judge is not going to be persuaded by anything except legitimate, bona fide submissions. Electoral Districts are to support common communities of interest and use natural geographic boundaries, municipal boundaries or major arteries wherever practicable.
There are far greater issues at stake than the electoral (dis)advantage of any particular political party or candidate. The integrity of the electoral process and the fairness of elections mandates that the drawing of boundaries be done fairly, independently and using only appropriate criteria.