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Thursday, March 18, 2010

the rural alberta advantage.

While speaking to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties this week, Premier Ed Stelmach confirmed the obvious when defending his government's decision to increase the number of constituencies in the next election: it was in order to preserve the existing number of rural constituencies in the Legislative Assembly. This decision continued the over-represention of rural Alberta ridings in the Assembly, despite rapid growth in the urban centres.

With a few exceptions, the PCs have been able to rely on non-competitive electoral districts in rural Alberta since wiping out the Social Credit rump in 1975. Over the past 39-years, the PCs have relied heavily on rural politicians as a "farm team" to replenish their ranks of rural MLAs (some now include Premier Stelmach, and Ministers Jack HaydenIris EvansRay DanylukLloyd SnelgroveMel Knight, and MLAs Wayne DrysdaleBroyce JacobsRichard Marz, and Len Mitzel).

The PCs have dealt with competitive elections in the two major urban areas (Edmonton and Calgary), but the threat of a Wildrose insurgency across Alberta would be cause for great concern and is likely the reason behind Premier Stelmach's posturing over rural over-representation.

18 comments:

Lance said...

So, the only urban areas in the province are Calgary and Edmonton and everything else (including Sherwood Park) is the sticks?

Dave, do you consider that rural politicians are capable of being good Cabinet material, or should we disqualify anyone from say an hour north of Edmonton?

shannon said...

Gah. My math sucks but I believe Edmonton/Calgary got three new mlas and "rural" AB got 1. That additional mla was in the fort mcmurray area which has a very large population base nearing 100 000. Unless you're also considering the reworking of the Grande Prairie area (which I don't really consider them "rural" even if they support the PCs), I don't think this is quite 4 new mlas for rural alberta...

I think the premier's words may have been misconstrued.

Anonymous said...

True, Stelmach didn't really say the number of rural constituencies was increasing. His main point was that they had to increase the total in order to hang on to the existing # of rural seats. But it does continue a pretty significant over-representation of rural Alberta.

Come on people. By any serious standard, Calgary and Edmonton are the only urban areas. Sometimes I even wonder whether they're real cities. By global standards and despite some improvement in the last 10 or 20 years, they're barely more than overgrown suburbs themselves. But surely we're not going to consider our smaller cities "urban". When your "downtown" is a SAAN store, a Wendy's, a couple of coffee shops, that craft place, a used bookstore, that old guy who cuts keys, that chevy dealership full of trucks, it's a pretty good sign you're not an urban area. No, not even if a couple big box chains are opening up on the west end. And if your community leaves en masse every morning for Edmonton to work, it's a pretty good sign you're not an urban area - even if you have your very own mall. I've been many times to Red Deer, Fort Mac, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, even a couple times to Grand Prairie, and these are not real urban areas. Doesn't mean they're bad - it just means they're not urban. Same goes for rural politicians. Most of them are bad, Stelmach included, but they're badness isn't necessarily caused by their ruralness.

daveberta said...

Hey, fair comments about my wording. I've done some editing to make my point more clear. Thanks.

-Dave

daveberta said...

Shannon: To be fair, Edmonton's one new seat now brings the City's number of MLAs up to what it was before it was decreased by one seat in 2003. Edmonton's total number of seats are now back where it was in 1997. I really wonder why the two large cities are quiet on this issue?

The decision to increase the total number of MLAs from 83 to 87 was a political decision. It preserves the political balance between rural and urban that has helped keep the PCs in office since the 1970s and avoids the need for many nasty nomination battles between PC incumbents.

There was no real need to increase the number of MLAs from 83 to 87. It was a political decision.

Anonymous said...

Or possibly it's to maintain a modicum of rural representation to counterbalance the outright prejudice of urban elitist twits such as yourself who have no comprehension of - or interest in -rural issues? Believe it or not, people who live outside the city limit sign matter as well.

Bread said...

I believe stelmach also commented that some of our ridings are bigger than PEI - an entire province. But since the supreme court ruled on that little thing called effective representation...

To the commenter re: urban. I don't think anyone is claiming that Alberta has any world level metropolises, but when engaging a discussion on "rural" alberta, icluding ft mac or GP in there is ridiculous. How much agriculture or small community sustainability and viability do these areas contend with?

I'm not a supporter of the premier but he can't win here - he adds 4 seats to take pressure off of rapidly increasing population growth to edmonton, calgary and mcmurray, where all four NEW seats have gone and he's still balking to rural pressures??

B&Bfly

Anonymous said...

Edmonton doesn't really have any room for complaint with 19 seats. Any more and the city would be over represented in the legislature. This year it seems that it was Calgary's turn to get screwed over. Calgary should have 26 seats instead of 25.

The problem really isn't with all rural seats in general but with the select few that get special treatment and are allowed to have vastly lower populations. It isn't just the two special consideration ridings either, no riding should be allowed to have more than ten percent fewer people than the average. The current proposal has six such ridings.

Of course, by the time the next redistricting has to occur, there will be massive discrepancies in many more ridings but that cannot be helped now. The only solution here is to make it mandatory to redistrict the province after every census. Ten years is simply too long a time in a province in which a few select areas are growing so rapidly while many others are stagnant.

David J. Climenhaga said...

It's not just Alberta, although we are a particularly bad example. Our Canadian electoral system creates this kind of rural domination everywhere. Cities, which provide most of the non-royalty taxes and the creative energy that drive our provinces, couldn't rate lower for rural-based, rural-biased parties like Mr. Stelmach's Conservatives. Quibbling over whether Medicine Hat or Red Deer is a genuinely urban area won't change this reality. The answer is to quit moaning and either create a political party dedicated to holding the balance of power in order to serve the needs of city taxpayers, or getting control of an existing party that is going nowhere anyway by fantasizing that some day, somehow it might be able to form a government.

Anonymous said...

Hey anonymous 9:09pm What about the effectivness of representation when it takes 5 hrs to get from one part of a riding to another, vs 1/2 hr or less? It's not just numbers that speak to effective representation...

Glenn

Party of One said...

Glenn...while travelling the riding may be important for photo-ops and pressing the flesh, I think that in a digital age we can accomplish sufficiently effective representation through things like e-mail, video conferencing, or even the good ol' phone.

Although I live in a city, a block away from my MLA's office, I have found these avenues of discourse more than enough...

Anonymous said...

Okay Glenn, what do you suggest? Representation by population is a principle that can be stood by. Placing an arbitrary limit on how big a riding can be is not a principle. That is unless we intend to continuously have ridings in this province with 20 000 people while urban ridings start hitting the six figures. We all know that every time we have redistricting various rural ridings will have to get geographically larger. If a riding is too large today, yet not too large in twenty years then there is no real principle in play.

Of course what is going on is an entirely different conception of what an MLAs job is. In rural areas people seem to desire a personal relationship with their MLA. They want to be able to talk to the person and have him or her solve issues. In the cities we see are MLAs as votes in legislature representing our views and concerns. We want a greater influence over how money is spent. Our municipal leaders are expected to be able to converse directly with the Premier instead of the MLA whose riding covers a large number of municipalities. Perhaps this situation could be rectified in a manner that has nothing to do with the make up of the legislature. Would multiple constituency offices or some funding for local leaders to travel to Edmonton to speak with the MLA there instead of at home help to solve the issue of communication in large rural ridings while respecting the principle of representation by population? Or maybe people will just have to become accustomed to speaking to their MLA over the phone.

One thing seems to have been made abundantly clear by the four seat expansion of the Legislature. That is increasing the number of MLAs does not seem to be a popular method of dealing with the problem; so in the future rural constituencies will have to expand geographically to keep up with urban growth.

Anonymous said...

Party of One:
Your comments regarding the "digital age" show you are completely out of touch with rural Alberta, particularly northern Alberta.
You talk about e-mail, video conferencing and phones, but the reality is that huge portions of northern Alberta do not have access to reliable internet or telephone systems. They certainly don't have access to the high speed systems that video or even voice conferencing requires.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said … "Edmonton doesn't really have any room for complaint with 19 seats. Any more and the city would be over represented in the legislature. This year it seems that it was Calgary's turn to get screwed over. Calgary should have 26 seats instead of 25."
So two cities that together total ⅔ of the total population of the province get half the seats in the legislature and is somehow over-represented? They must still be using that 'old' math where you come from/
Anonymous said … "Or possibly it's to maintain a modicum of rural representation to counterbalance the outright prejudice of urban elitist twits such as yourself who have no comprehension of - or interest in -rural issues? Believe it or not, people who live outside the city limit sign matter as well."
Perhaps it's time for some anger management therapy. I read everything here and nowhere, other than in your posting, is there any prejudice. I'm a small business owner IN A CITY and I have much more in common with rural small business owners (farmers INCLUDED) than I do with the suits in the office towers a few blocks from my business. The divide is not urban/rural. We don't get the tax breaks that the big companies do and hockey teams do. We don't get guaranteed profits like the utility companies do.
It's large corporate entities versus the rest of us in small and medium business. It's corporate and national or multinational versus local, independent business. It's Walmart versus your neighbour's business. It's Safeway versus UFA or COOP. It's Home Hardware versus the local hardware store or lumber yard or even national chains such as Rona/Totem or Home Hardware.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said … "Edmonton doesn't really have any room for complaint with 19 seats. Any more and the city would be over represented in the legislature. This year it seems that it was Calgary's turn to get screwed over. Calgary should have 26 seats instead of 25."
So two cities that together total ⅔ of the total population of the province get half the seats in the legislature and is somehow over-represented? They must still be using that 'old' math where you come from.

Anonymous said … "Or possibly it's to maintain a modicum of rural representation to counterbalance the outright prejudice of urban elitist twits such as yourself who have no comprehension of - or interest in -rural issues? Believe it or not, people who live outside the city limit sign matter as well."
Perhaps it's time for some anger management therapy. I read everything here and nowhere, other than in your posting, is there any prejudice. I'm a small business owner IN A CITY and I have much more in common with rural small business owners (farmers INCLUDED) than I do with the suits in the office towers a few blocks from my business. The divide is not urban/rural. We don't get the tax breaks that the big companies and hockey teams do. We don't get guaranteed profits like the utility companies do.

It's large corporate entities versus the rest of us in small and medium business. It's corporate and national or multinational versus local, independent business. It's Walmart versus your neighbour's business. It's Safeway versus UFA or COOP. It's Home Hardware versus the local hardware store or lumber yard or even national chains such as Rona/Totem or Home Hardware.

Party of One said...

"the reality is that huge portions of northern Alberta do not have access to reliable internet or telephone systems"

It seems to me that the isolation of the north is an issue that should be addressed in any case. While there may not be a market case for private provision of high speed internet services, this is an area where the provincial government could and should provide those services, perhaps based in a community centre or library or health clinic. While this may foster better representation, it shouldn't be the ONLY reason it's set up. Remote medical assistance, anyone? Research capability NOT based in the cities?

I would rather the government spent money on something like that rather than having MLA's and their aides driving 5 hours or more to meet with 20 people! Or worse, flying in, except where that's the only way in.

Anonymous said...

Edmonton and Calgary do not make up 2/3 of Alberta's population. The Edmonton Region and Calgary region on the other hand do. If you are going to claim 2/3 of the population live on Edmonton and Calgary by using the populations of the entire regions, then at least count all the seats in the two regions, not just those in the city limits.

shannon said...

Amen anonymous 7:31... Edmonton and calgary proper do not make up 2/3 of the population. That is a super misleading and incorrect statement/statistic that gets repeated again and again.