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:
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
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
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.
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.