Contentious redrawing of federal election ridings in Saskatchewan complete

OTTAWA – After a contentious debate, the final map of new federal election boundaries in Saskatchewan is complete.

A commission tasked with drawing the map says it only made a few tweaks after it considered objections from Conservative members of Parliament.

The changes include altering the boundaries of the Prince Albert riding to include the communities of Batoche, Domremy and St. Louis. The commission said it accepted arguments that the areas are more closely aligned with the Prince Albert district than with the riding of Humboldt-Warman-Martensville.

The commission also moved an area, including the village of Avonlea, to the riding of Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan. The rationale was that the changes would better connect the communities of interest that now exist.

The overall number of seats in Saskatchewan remains at 14.

The biggest change, first proposed last summer, is for urban-only ridings in Regina and Saskatoon, instead of the current urban-rural hybrids, which spread out like slices of a pie, pulling in a corner of the cities along with a bigger rural area.

The commission held public consultations on the proposal last fall. It made a few adjustments based on the public feedback and then tabled a report with the new map in the Commons in January.

The report said Saskatchewan’s demographics have changed from the last commission in 2002 and have changed even more significantly since 1966, when the first mixed rural-urban ridings were created.

But the proposal sparked outrage from some corners, including Saskatchewan’s 13 Conservative MPs.

The Conservatives, which count rural Saskatchewan as a stronghold, told a Commons committee that the new map orphans some suburban areas and makes some ridings too big geographically.

Conservative MP Kelly Block issued a statement Wednesday saying that she would run in the new riding of Humboldt-Warman-Martensville-Rosetown.

“This was not an easy decision to make as it has been a tremendous honour and a privilege to serve both the urban and rural residents in the riding of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar over the past five years,” Block said.

The proposal also split the commission itself.

Commissioner David Marit wrote a dissenting report. Marit argued that changing the boundaries so drastically would diminish voter turnout at the polls. He said cities are connected in many ways to rural Saskatchewan.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski said in February that he couldn’t recall another redistribution that was so divided. Lukiwski, who was also on the Commons committee, said he believed this was the only time a dissenting report had been filed.

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale, who holds the lone non-Conservative seat in Saskatchewan, says the commission got the changes right.

“I think the result is a good, decent, fair, moderate outcome that will provide a more accurate reflection of Saskatchewan’s reality in the future,” Goodale said Wednesday.

Goodale says, under the status quo, thousands of people felt their vote wasn’t being properly valued and counted.

“The major complaint that the commission was trying to address is how do you provide some urban voices at a time when the population of Saskatchewan is growing, and growing particularly in Regina and Saskatoon,” he said.

“So they, I think, produced a balanced result.”

The boundaries commission said in its report that some people would view its decisions in terms of political winners and losers, but insisted the changes were not politically motivated.

Independent commissions were created across the country to set boundaries so that each riding has roughly the same number of people as other ridings in that province, while also taking into account communities of interest, historical patterns and geography.

New riding maps were also tabled Wednesday for British Columbia and Quebec.

The new map for B.C. has 42 electoral districts — an increase of six. The commission has said the ripple effect of adding six new districts meant a review was needed of all 36 ridings.

“This was comparable to redesigning a 42-piece jigsaw puzzle from an existing 36-piece jigsaw puzzle,” it said.

Some small changes were made in the final map, but in the end, the original boundaries of only two of the existing ridings, Victoria and Vancouver East, were kept.

The commission in B.C. said in its report that changes were not made “for the sake of change,” but to reflect population growth in the province over the past 10 years.

In Quebec, the commission was tasked with redrawing the map because the number of ridings went from 75 to 78. Of the 75 existing electoral districts, 11 are unchanged.

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina