Thursday, 23 April 2015

Electoral Boundaries No Show a No Brainer

Electoral Boundaries No Show a No Brainer

By Ryan Young

When I got home from presenting at the electoral boundaries commission hearing in St. John’s yesterday the media was abuzz with the low turnout for the event. Granted, only three people showed up to make presentations (and one in silent protest) to the commission but is that really a surprise?

For starters the whole issue surrounding Bill 42 is not really a big deal for residents of the metro region. They will see the least amount of changes in their representation and it only stands to reason that they would not feel affected enough to take the time to speak to the commission. For many residents in St. John’s that I have spoken to it is a non-issue, although many do have concerns about the whole process being less than democratic. When I raised the issue with St. John’s North MHA Dale Kirby just a few days before the hearing, he informed me that I was the only constituent that had gotten in touch with him to speak about the issue.

The second major issue is the timing of the hearing. Starting at ten o’clock on a Wednesday morning, a concerned resident would have to take at least a half-day off work in order to attend the hearing. For many people that is just not a possibility and I would like to have had the option to go during the weekend when people generally have more time. By holding the hearing during regular working hours the commission created an obvious barrier to allowing people to participate.

As the commission embarks on it’s journey across the province I can only hope that the hearings are better attended and that the commissioners are able to hear from concerned citizens who are worried about the massive changes in representation to rural Newfoundland. I feel, however, that many affected residents will not have the opportunity to speak up due to the timing and the travel distances involved. The commission will make options such as Skype available, but I have a feeling that very few people will avail of that service either. The fact of the matter is that the commission has not made itself accessible enough to the people who will be most affected by these changes.

The following is my presentation to the commission:

Dear Commissioners,
 My name is Ryan Young. I am currently a resident of the electoral district of St. John’s North. I am a former resident of the district of St. Barbe. I would like to bring to the attention of the commission, some oversights which I have discovered in the current proposed boundaries.

I will begin by saying that as a resident of Newfoundland and Labrador I am opposed to any reduction of seats at this time. Reducing the number of seats by such a large number, and in such a short time frame can only lead to a rushed process and not enough time for adequate discussion and consultation. For example many rural residents will have to travel long distances, during working hours, just to be able to attend one of these public hearings. For many people who are going to be affected by these changes, that is just not an option. With all due respect to the commissioners themselves, who are undoubtedly qualified for the job, I also feel that the commission has not been adequately represented by members of rural Newfoundland. This is resulting in many rural residents feeling that they have no say in the redrawing of the electoral boundaries. I agree, insofar as to say that it is very difficult to understand the needs of rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians while looking at a map in St. John’s.

 There was a legitimate process and timeframe in place for the electoral boundary review to be completed next year and I agree with the multitudes of professionals who have spoken up and called the current process undemocratic. I believe that the review should have went ahead as planned and then afterwards the commission would present recommendations on the number of seats to remain in the legislature. Since this is not the way things have happened, I feel a responsibility to voice my concerns about the process, and with the boundaries themselves.

My biggest concern is not as much with the reduction in representation but with how some of the new districts will be represented. I watched the webcast and listened to the explanations of how the flow was determined but in some cases, by holding firmly to population quotients, I believe that the new boundaries will have a very detrimental effect on representation in certain areas. I will use two districts as examples of how meeting the population quotient has caused a boundary to include an area that otherwise would never be considered.

The first district is the proposed district of Ferryland. As explained in the webcast, a large portion of the Goulds has been included in this district in order to maintain the population quotient. The MHA of this district will represent mainly rural areas of the southern shore in terms of geographic location but a large percentage of the population of the district will be located in the Goulds which is considered to be part of the Metro region. How can we expect an MHA to be able to properly represent a district that is so divided between urban and rural populations? An MHA elected from Trepassey, for instance would be very unfamiliar with the problems in the Goulds and vice versa. It would make it very difficult for any MHA to fairly represent the whole district and most likely the rural areas of the district would be the ones to suffer. By excluding the Goulds the district may not meet the population quotient but you would have a much fairer district in terms of representation.

The second district is the proposed district of Gros Morne. As a former resident of the district of St. Barbe, I know first-hand the challenges of traveling the northern coast. It is a tough job for the MHA now under the current boundary structure. Under the proposed new boundary the district of Gros Morne would drop the areas north of Bellburns and add the Deer Lake region and White Bay. The residents of the Northern Peninsula and Gros Morne National Park face very unique challenges that are much different than Deer Lake or White Bay. These proposed changes will give less representation to an area that is very unique in terms of health care, the fishery, tourism, etc. Deer Lake has always traditionally been associated more with the Humber Valley and those residents have much more in common with Pasadena than with Gros Morne. With 60% of the district population in Deer Lake and White Bay I fear that the coastal areas and Gros Morne will struggle to receive adequate representation. In order to ensure fair representation of the region I would propose changing the boundary to run from the southern edge of Gros Morne, north to Port aux Choix. This may not meet the population quotient but it would ensure fair representation for the residents of both districts.

It is very important to remember that smaller geographic regions of the province often have challenges and issues that are unique to their particular area. I am not familiar enough with each district to make correlations for each one of them, but I would speculate that many districts would face similar problems with representation under the proposed new boundaries. I understand the commissions motives in trying to stay within the population quotient but as outlined above there are situations where adding areas to a district just to meet the population requirements does not make sense once you stop looking at a map and start looking at it in terms of how it will affect the people.
Thank you for your time in allowing me to present to the commission. I hope you will find some common sense in my argument and consider these human issues when the boundary lines are finalized. It is not rational to base all of the proposed new districts on population alone and I think it would be important to extend these hearings to more rural areas of the province so that all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador can have a chance to have their say on such an important issue.

Thank You,

 Ryan Young

I strongly feel that Bill 42 is a very undemocratic piece of legislation, and as outlined in my presentation above it will be detrimental to the residents of rural Newfoundland. Despite the low turnout for the hearing in St. John's, people are worried. We can only hope that before the boundaries are finalized that the commission will take a common sense approach to ensuring that all residents have fair representation in the House of Assembly.

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