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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ernie walter appointed chair of alberta's next electoral boundaries commission.

Through an Order-in-Council, former Provincial Court Justice Ernie Walter has been appointed as Chair of Alberta's next Electoral Boundaries Review Commission. Justice Walter will be joined by four commission members (two appointed by the Premier Ed Stelmach and two appointed by Official Opposition leader David Swann). The commission will be tasked to redraw the boundaries to account for the population changes since the last boundaries review in 2002/2003. The legislation governing this commission calls for it to be appointed before July 31, 2009.

New changes, introduced by Justice Minister Alison Redford in Bill 45: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, mandate that the commission increase the total number of Alberta's electoral districts from 83 to 87 (in these (sic) tough economic times, one thing that we can apparently afford is more politicians).

It is suspected that the 4 MLA increase has less to do with increasing representation and more to do with preempting any increased urban-rural tension among PC MLAs. Even as many rural Alberta ridings decrease in population, its citizens have continued to benefit from being over-represented in the Legislative Assembly in comparison to citizens in Alberta's larger urban areas (ie: 23,645 people in Dunvegan-Central Peace and 55,570 people in Edmonton-Whitemud).

Not convinced? Last year, Municipal Affairs Minister and Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk made his position clear when he told the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties that "Representation is not all about equal representation, it's about equitable representation." Actually, it is about equal representation.

As a result of the 2002/2003 Electoral Boundary Review Final Report, the quickly growing City of Edmonton lost a seat in the Legislative Assembly when the Edmonton-Norwood riding was dissolved (much of the area was merged with Edmonton-Highlands to become the current Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood).


Anonymous said...

Actually it's NOT about equal representation Dave, as much as I too wish it were.

The Supreme Court ruled in the Saskatchewan Reference that representation in a parliamentary system is twofold: in one sense it's about legislation, but in another it's about ombudsmanship.

As it is difficult to act as ombudsman for a rural constituency, the courts both Supreme and Alberta based have consistently ruled that a deviation from a pure population model is not only permissible, but expected.

Besides, even with a population model, Edmonton isn't shorted any seats, and Calgary is shorted MAYBE one.

The real give and take is between those exurban areas and the rural areas.

daveberta said...

I understand the Supreme Court rulings and the spirit of the 'special exceptions' made for up to two (?) ridings population-wise. Frankly, I do think it's still about equality. If an MLA is representing a large rural riding, then I have no problem with them being allocated a large budget for additional travel or two/three constituency offices.

On the increase to 87 MLAs, I would personally be interested in seeing a decrease in the total number of MLAs. Edmonton City Council has 12 Councillors and Calgary City Council has 14 Aldermen, why do those cities need +20 MLAs each? Decrease the total across the board, but make the populations they represent more equal.

Anonymous said...

By Alberta law there can be up to 4 "special allowance" ridings, who have more than the 25% deviation from the average. Currently only 1 such riding exists, that of Dunvegan, so using it as your example of a small rural riding without mentioning its uniqueness seems somewhat dishonest.

Anonymous said...

Good point by Anon 7:54. I am curious as to what your perfect electoral boundary map would look like Dave.

kenchapman said...

I wonder if we will see the final boundary decisions set by the courts again. It seems the political process is incapable of coming to a non-gerrymandered conclusion.

The rural and urban representation challenges are very different. If we can get the SuperNet to every Albertan and start using video conferencing more we can increase commuication and reduce costs. Rural MLAs have to spend too much time on the road and that oftern a waste in terms of time and distance.

Face to face meetings are presumed to be best but not necessary in all cases.

Time to adapt political representation to at least to the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit dishonest to pass off Edmonton-Whitemud's situation as representative of the average size of an Edmonton constituency. When created in 03, Edmonton-Whitemud had a population of 37,402.

For a point of comparision:

The average Edmonton constituency size was 37,000.

The average Edmonton constituency size was 38,212.

The average "urbanized" (outside of Calgary or Edmonton but not of a rural nature) constituency had 35,711.

The average rural constituency had a population of 33,519.

That's a gap, but it's not nearly as large as you suggest. You undermine your case by being so selective with your numbers.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that's Edmonton: 37,006, Calgary: 38,212.

daveberta said...

Thanks for the comments!

I probably didn't make it clear enough, but it wasn't my intention to pass off the Edmonton-Whitemud and Dunvegan-Central Peace examples as the average. My intention was to point out the extreme gaps that exist under the current boundaries.

As for my version of the maps, I'm not a statistician or cartographer, but I’d like to see more fair population distribution in our representation.

How do people feel about 'rurban' ridings versus pure urban and pure rural ridings? (eg: rurban: Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert, Stony Plain, Airdrie-Chestermere; the two Grande Prairie ridings)

daveberta said...

Also, Ken, I'm not sure there is any way to avoid attempts at gerrymandering under the current political structure. As long as four of the five members are political appointees, the boundary evaluation process will be under threat of partisan influence (the 2002/2003 commission included a former PC MLA, a future PC Party President, a former Liberal candidate, and a former ATA President, and the Chair was the 'Ethics Commissioner' and former Social Credit Party leader).

Doug said...

Dave’s comparison of Dunvegan and Edmonton-Whitemud is valid. We vote in single-member constituencies. A large population variance between any two constituencies indicates some Albertans’ votes carry greater weight than others. The Supreme Court has found such variances to be legal, but that does not make them democratic.

Alberta allows a 25% plus-or-minus variance from the provincial population quotient. Saskatchewan allows only 5% for the southern half of the province. There are special rules for the northern half, which is divided into two constituencies.

My point is that, given the geographical similarities of the two provinces, Saskatchewan shows that we could (and I would argue we must) have a much smaller allowable population variance between constituencies.
The smaller variance in Saskatchewan played an important role in ensuring a relatively democratic outcome in the 2003 election. With a larger variance, it could very well have been a “wrong-winner” election where the Saskatchewan Party, which came in second-place in the popular vote, could have won a majority of the seats.

However, to really ensure the equality of votes and majority rule (surely a basic requirement for a democracy), fair constituency boundaries will never be enough. We have to adopt proportional representation.

James L. said...

Sure, Dunvegan is by far the worst of the worst, but let's not act like it's all alone down there at the bottom of the barrel.

By electors (2006):

70 PEACE RIVER 18,007

Anonymous said...

Keep it at 83 ridings and pay each member 5% more instead. I know it is heresy to suggest that politicians are under-paid, but there are many cops, nurses, pipe fitters, and teachers who make more than the $78,138/year that MLAs make.

Paying a low salary discourages qualified candidates from running for office. Even highly civic-minded professionals and tradespeople balk at the prospect of taking a pay cut to sit on the back benches.

It also makes MLAs more vulnerable to manipulation by special interests that can wink-and-nod at them about post-politics "business opportunities."

The situation is only exacerbated by the Legislature's pointless political showmanship of passing up their cost of living increase this year. And the fact that cabinet ministers get a $64,000 bonus just increases the power of an already too-powerful Premier. It's hard to have the guts to speak out against your party in the first place, but it's even harder when you risk losing the tens of thousands of dollars that comes with a cabinet spot or a committee chair.

Anonymous said...

A couple things. On many occaions, has mentioned the importance of good representation. I agree. Then however he goes and criticizes the addition of four new MLA's during a period of incredible population growth. Wholly inconsistent and blatently partisan.

Secondly I do agree that we should try to keep the amount of seats reasonably equal in terms of population. This is easy in Calgary, Edmonton, and I suppose in Red Deer, Lethbridge, etc. too. But way up north - I can only imagine how tough it would be to campaign over such vast distances. I'm with Ray Danyluk on that one.

My two cents.

Pretty Boy Floyd said...

..two appointed by the Premier Ed Stelmach and two appointed by Official Opposition leader David Swann.

Correct, but incomplete. Swann is obligated by law to consult with other opposition parties before going ahead with the appointments, however, he does not have to listen to what the other parties want, as they don't have to approve his decision.

In the last round, one of the Liberal picks (after ignoring the NDP recommendations) went ahead and voted with the Tories to eliminate an Edmonton seat. The decision was a follow up on the decision to not have combined urban/suburban seats, even though they work fine federally and in other jurisdictions.

Pick well Dr. Swann. Please don't screw us again.

daveberta said...

PBF: You are correct:

"2(1)(b) 2 persons, who are not members of the Legislative Assembly, appointed by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on the nomination of the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition in consultation with the leaders of the other opposition parties represented in the Legislative Assembly,"

The two opposition appointed members in the last review were former ATA President Bauni Mackay and Claresholm Mayor Ernie Patterson. To be fair to Swann (who wasn't even an MLA yet), they were appointed by the brief Liberal leader Ken Nicol.

I would be interested in knowing who the NDP wanted to nominate and if they would have seriously consulted with the Liberals had the situation been reversed.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the Wildrose Alliance.

Darius Agustus said...

"in consultation with the leaders of the other opposition parties represented in the Legislative Assembly"

The Alliance isn't represented in the Legislative Assembly

Anonymous said...

Justice Walter is a great pick for this job, and I'm certain that given the framework he will put forward an excellent report.

Either way, Dave is absolutely right about the PC's getting this wrong by increasing the number of seats. I'm a PC supporter and I think it would be healthy for a few of our rural MLAs to face off in a nomination race. Big government is not the solution to a representation problem.