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Monday, September 21, 2009

your feedback: alberta's electoral boundaries commission.

Alberta's Electoral Boundaries Commission will be holding their first round of public hearings in Edmonton and Calgary this week. I am planning to submit recommendations to the Commission and I would like your feedback!

The basic overview of my submission include:

Basic Principles

- All Albertans deserve equal representation in the Alberta Legislature.

- Leave out the politics. Boundary redistribution isn't about urban versus rural, it’s about ensuring Albertans have equal representation in their Legislature.

Population Disparity

The Electoral Boundaries Commission Act allows for the population of a proposed electoral division to be 25 percent above or 25 percent below the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions.

I urge the Commission to recommend the population of each of the proposed electoral divisions be within plus or minus 5 percent of the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions.

Large Electoral Districts

Representing large rural electoral districts presents obvious challenges. Current legislation allows the Commission to recommend 4 large proposed electoral divisions to have a population that is as much as 50% below the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions. In 2009, the technology exists to aid MLAs to communicate, converse, and represent Albertans in large electoral districts.

I urge the Electoral Boundaries Commission to not designate any electoral district this special status. Instead of allow over representation in the Assembly, I urge the Commission to recommend an increase in funding for MLAs representing large electoral districts for the cost of multiple constituency offices and an increased travel budget.

27 comments:

Brian Dell said...

You could add my name to your submission if you are collecting such things.

Enlarging the Legislature is an unnecessary taxpayer expense. How many beds will be closed to create more seats for politicians?

Unfortunately the Commission has no incentive to ensure that the citizens of, say, Calgary's suburbs in the northwest (e.g. ridings of Calgary NW and Calgary W) or southeast (e.g. Calgary Hays), or, for that matter, Aidrie (population growth) are fairly represented since the Wildrose Alliance had no input into the selection of commissioners and these areas WRA friendly.

Shannon said...

Hey Dave,
I have to disagree. The km that MLAs have to travel in the North is cost prohibitive (in more ways than just cash to travel). These electoral divisions will lack an effectiveness or efficiency at a larger size. Many areas up here do not have easily accessible internet access, notwithstanding that ostensibly most MLAs would like some face time with their electorate. Communications in the north is not the same as within the Edmonton/Calgary core.
The one special constituency which is allowed to exist is Dunvegan/Central Peace, and its variance is not 50% (37.5%).

I don't think reducing these districts while increasing the travel budgets will help in representing these folks. The time that is necessary to travel to these isolated communities is already excessive. An MLA for Peace River represents residents from Nampa to Rainbow lake to the rural areas up to the territories. Lesser Slave Lake (which does not have special status now) represents residents from Wabasca-Desmarais, Chipewyan Lake, Cadotte Lake & Little Buffalo all the way to High Prairie and south to Chisolm and Flatbush. That is a massive area to cover. I've driven from High Prairie to Red Earth Creek, and there's really no quick way to do it.
Also - with the population variances so huge in Calgary i believe it would take more than 4 additional electoral divisions to bring these areas into your proposed 5% variance.

Anonymous said...

Brian Dell: you should go and make a submission to the Commission outlining your points. The more people that they here from, the more information they will have when crafting their report.

They are in Edmonton hearing submission from the public Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Check Dave's link to their site for more info.

daveberta said...

Brian: I agree with the anonymous commenter. You should submit your recommendations to the committee. Here is the link to the schedule of first round public hearings: http://www.altaebc.ab.ca/Schedule.html

Sept 22,23: Edmonton
Sept 24,25: Calgary
Oct 5: Drumheller, Medicine Hat
Oct 6: Lethbridge
Oct 7: Grande Prairie, Peace River
Oct 8: Slave Lake, Westlock
Oct 9: Edson, Red Deer

daveberta said...

Shannon: Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the feedback from someone living in an area like Peace River.

As you wrote, there are some obvious challenges to representing large electoral districts, but this isn't anything we can't overcome.

This is an issue of representation, and the MLAs elected to represent large ridings should be given the resources available to represent these ridings. Increased travel budgets, increased funding for additional constituency offices and staff, and a larger focus on developing use for the SuperNet are three easy ways to help in this area. If MLAs had the resources available to them, shouldn't we expect that they would use them?

It's an issue of representation.

Dave

Gauntlet said...

I think the idea of providing additional funding on the basis of the size of the riding is a good idea anyway, but I'm not sure the commission's recommendation would mean anything, and I don't think they will unilaterally decide to reduce the 25% limit.

I also think asking them not to recognize rural/urban divides is counter-productive. I would instead encourage them to seek to increase the fidelity with which they observe boundaries between urban and rural areas (reduce the # of "rurban" ridings), while at the same time seeking to minimize the standard deviation of populations.

Those two things are both fair, and the only limit on doing both at the same time is the number of seats they have to play with. Which is a reasonable limit.

Shannon said...

Dave - we agree, it is about representation. Where we differ is that i believe that there needs to be a certain amount of accessibility to that representation. I doubt the Electoral Boundaries Commission will be making recommendations regarding travel budgets etc - their role is to review the map and recommend changes to the map. Until other changes ensuring accessibility can be guaranteed we can't have certain albertans being represented while others are represented with minimal access to their MLA. For electoral divisions in the North to reach populations of around 38,000, the result will be massive, completely inaccessible electoral divisions for residents living in the geographically largest area of the province.

Brian Dell said...

I'll look into trying to submit something Wednesday afternoon, despite my concern that getting involved in tweaking at the margins tends to legitimize the democratic deficit at the core. My main complaint would be about continual obsolescence for suburb and exurb ridings because they are growing, hence we should be leading off by using PROJECTED census numbers timed to the mid-point of the timing of boundary reviews.

But in response to Shannon, there ought to be some evidence provided re this "accessibility" contention. 60% of Albertans can't even be bothered to vote. For how many Albertans would communication with their MLA by e-mail, phone, or postage free letter not be sufficient? And this very small group is entitled to Cadillac representation when tens of thousands of Albertans are not entitled to what amounts to basic representation? I'd add to this the economic argument that the greater inefficiency of rural access should be recognized as such. If a remote hospital costs 10x per bed relative to a centralized hospital, that's a factor; there is no absolute right here because "access" ultimately comes down to convenience of communication, not capacity to communicate or right to vote.

I don't think anyone can suggest that Dave is in this out of concern for Liberal or NDP interests because it is the more distant suburbs that are most severely underrepresented and the Liberals and NDP are generally not competitive there. Early last year Dave cited Edmonton Whitemud, for example, and this was an Edmonton riding the Liberals couldn't win even when the PCs had a Calgary leader.

Testinme said...

Well Dave,

If you agree that a rural area may require 2 or 3 constituency offices, doesn't that kind of highlight the reasons why we need more MLAs per capita in rural areas?

After all, a constituency office staffed by an MLA every third Friday is hardly giving effective representation to the constituents.

This is exactly why there are these disparities.

Brian Dell said...

"a constituency office staffed by an MLA every third Friday is hardly giving effective representation to the constituents."

It could be staffed every day of the week. Staff could communicate on behalf of the MLA and forward concerns. It comes down to the MLA's time, and on that front the MLA in Airdrie or Calgary NW or Edmonton Whitemud has to process 3x the per capita contacts as a MLA in the rural Peace country.

What I find galling is that many PC supporters argue that frequent face to face contact with one's MLA fundamental to democracy, yet if the MLA were to actually take heed of this contact, he or she would probably be Boutiliered! It's all for show.

If you wanted to REALLY empower people you'd give them facetime with Stelmach (and he'd listen)!

Shannon said...

Brian - i find it interesting that as a resident of Peace River i'm assumed to be a PC or WAP supporter. I don't think i've said anything to that effect... (or otherwise).

Shannon said...

I totally agree that an MLA representing a gross over variance of population is as inaccessible to the electorate as one representing a vast geographical area. I imagine this is why they are looking at the maps in the first place - 60,000+ people is far too many for one MLA. I don't think anyone in the North (outside of Wood Buffalo who are in an over-variance at 58,000+ pop) is asking for more electoral districts up here.
Whether 60% (rural AND urban) Albertans choose to vote or not does should not deny them face to face with their MLA. By saying that rural albertans should be satisfied with a "cadillac" representation by email, phone, or post is to say that MLAs really don't need to be in the community at all - mine or yours.

Brian Dell said...

What's "Cadillac" is expecting more when one already has a vehicle for getting one's voice heard (email, phone, post, and videoconferencing) and others effectively don't have any vehicle at all. If this is a democracy, a relatively tiny group of lobbyists who covet their facetime with lawmakers should not be running the province at the expense of the rest of us.

MLAs DO need to be in the community, but we shouldn't run unfair elections (overrepresentation of regions supporting the govt, no fixed election dates, no MLA recall, no proportional representation, etc) in order to facilitate this, since the real limitation to community contact is how much the MLA wants to put into it, which can vary tremendously. In any case, it doesn't do a MLA any good to be in the community if he or she either does not listen or has no power (because his or her party's leadership has all the power). I'd rather have my input taken into consideration during 1 meeting than have it ignored throughout 10 meetings.

Anonymous said...

Constituency funding is already allocated based on size, population density, distance from the Leg, etc. There are several constituencies that already have multiple constituency offices...

Alberta Altruist said...

Dave,
Are there any proposed mappings of the new divisions that may take place?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Dave. Equal representation can only be achieved one way: by designing the electoral districts to hew as closely as possible to the average population. Effective representation, meanwhile, can be achieved through the use of a number of communication tools, many of which are just as effective with someone who lives in another city as they are with someone who lives next door. These include not only Internet-based means of communication but also the ubiquitous telephone. Urban voters should not have the strength of their vote diluted on the basis of complaints that rural districts will grow too large to manage. After all, if districts are created that have significant population disparities now, these inequities are likely to only grow more pronounced over the next eight years.

Anonymous said...

People: it's been said before, let's say it again.

The goal is not equal representation.

Stop watching so much damn American television. Here in Canada, our courts have laid out the benchmark of effective representation, in contrast to the U.S. guarantee of equal representation.

That means our MLAs have to be able to do their job properly for their constituents, which in our system includes more than just representing them when they vote. It includes helping residents access services, being there to work as their advocate to the government, etc.

Dave, you know this, and you and others continue to willfully ignore this, or hope you can just wish this fact out of existence. If you really wanted change, you would be building your case around this fact, and explaining why urban areas need more MLAs for effective representation.

Instead, you use a tired and legally bankrupt case that has already been rejected, ensuring your submission ends up on the trash heap.

rc said...

Brian Dell;

"What I find galling is that many PC supporters argue that frequent face to face contact with one's MLA fundamental to democracy, yet if the MLA were to actually take heed of this contact, he or she would probably be Boutiliered! It's all for show."

Heh. Funny that sentiment doesn't hold through election time; PCs are notorious no-shows for candidates' forums.

But, you're right in that it's all a show - along with these "public consultations." Why bother? They'll just gerrymander the ridings however they please, working hard not to upset their own respective apple carts.

Lou Arab said...

Just want to add my two cents agreeing with comments above that there is nothing wrong with mixed suburban/urban or even rural/urban seats.

I know it's not the biggest issue facing boundary redrawing, but it's always bugged me.

In the last round, the Commission decided that Edmonton and Calgary boundaries were sacrosanct. As a result two things happened; by strict population, Edmonton deserved 16.5 seats, but got 16. Allowing divided seats would have gotten us better representation.

Secondly, under these rules, the commission has to draw the boundaries from the outside of a city inward, which means very odd boundaries for inner city ridings (which don't tend to vote PC).

For example, Edmonton Gold Bar includes some inner city communities with east side suburbs. The biggest oddity has to be Edmonton Riverview, which has two separate parts on either side of the river - you can't even drive from one to the other without leaving the riding.

Are these so much better than attaching parts of Castle Downs to St. Albert or parts of the west end to Stony Plain? It's a question of which communities get chopped up, and I don't think it should necessarily be the inner city areas over the burbs every single time.

daveberta said...

Shannon: "Where we differ is that i believe that there needs to be a certain amount of accessibility to that representation." I think this is the key. So the question is, how can improve accessibility to representation that doesn't increase disparity among electoral district populations? I don't see why the Commission couldn't make recommendations regarding travel budgets included in their report. It isn't their official mandate, but they are doing more than simply drawing maps.

daveberta said...

Brian: I don't think you need to actually be there to make a submission. I don't think that I'll be able to make it this or tomorrow afternoon, so I will be emailing my submission in (it's 2009, so I would hope that I can do this).

Testinme: I don't see why numberous offices, if required, need to only be staffed one day a week. Why not full-time staffed, or 2-3 days a week. This isn't a radical idea.

daveberta said...

Alberta Altruist: In previous commissions, there is an interim map & report released after the first round of public hearings. The second round of hearings will take place after the interim maps & report are released.

Anonymous: I'm not ignoring anything. I believe that all Albertans deserve equal representation and that's what my submission will be about. If you want to send in your own submission, please feel free.

Anonymous said...

Dave,

You might as well ask the commission to bring in proportional representation.

What you're asking is outside of the scope of their mandate, and Canadian law.

Take a different approach.

shannon said...

Just to follow up on Anonymous:
the supreme court of canada has agreed that under the Charter the rights of albertans include the right to vote as well as the right to have the political strength or value or force of the vote an elector cast not unduly diluted; the right to effective representation; the right to have the parity of the votes of others diluted, but not unduly, in order to gain effective representation or as a matter of practical necessity.
Strictly population based electoral divisions ignore the massive geographic disparity in rural and remote areas of the provice and violates Canadian Law. I agree with Anonymous - make the argument for more urban MLAs be that an electoral division with more than the 25% variance also dilutes effective representation.

It's also worth noting that according to Wood Buffalo municipal census they are closer to 80 000 (some argue closer to 100 000+ if you include the shadow population - a tenuous assertion). This would easily be the greatest variance in the province if these population numbers are used. But then again - they are out of the Calgary/Edmonton core and when we thing gerrymandering - probably not the constituency PCs would want another seat located...

Duncan said...

Late to the comments game Dave but I am happy to endorse your proposal. I also note that the deadline to submit is October 13 - while it is fast approaching, there is more than enough time for any concerned Albertan to have their voice heard.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your points, Dave. Something I think that might be worthwhile to address with the Commission is the matrix used by the previous Commission to justify urban/rural disparity. None of the presenters so far seem to be really questioning it. Yet when I read the rationale for the matrix and how it is applied it is increasingly apparent to me that it is completely flawed.
http://www.altaebc.ab.ca/finalrptappendices.html#finalappE. The notion that rural ridings are so much more difficult to represent simply because of distance is an argument that doesn't hold water, particularly in today's highly-connected world. For example: if you were to meet individually with every person in an apartment building as opposed to having all of them attend together in one large conference room - personally I think it would be much easier to actually get a sense of what people want in the former situation, even though it might take a little more time.

If they continue using the flawed matrix, nothing will change.

It also strikes me that two constituencies that benefit from the current system of unequal vote weight, Dunvegan/Peace and Lesser Slave Lake, have MLAs that are two of the longest-serving in the Legislature. After so many years in power, by now they should have had time to meet every one of their constituents face-to-face! Yet neither of them appear particularly active in the Legislature. Does their special status make them more effective representatives? I would argue not.

In any case, I think it is extremely important to let the Commission know that we do not want more MLAs and that we want equal vote weight for urban constituencies. Maybe if they hear it enough times someone might actually listen.

s said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Internet is NOT a viable form of communication in northern rural and remote communities. Insisting that the electorate in these areas use that to communicate with their MLSa shows a complete lack of understanding of rural and remote communities. Again, if northern communities don't have the right to meet with their MLAs then perhaps mlas are not required to put face time into any communities rural or urban.