PARRY SOUND - Stand up and make your voices count.
That’s the message Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement wants to send to his constituents one month before hearings begin that could result in the loss of the northern part of the riding’s northern section and have it amalgamate it with the Nipissing district.
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario has proposed a new electoral map for consideration at public hearings this fall, including one scheduled for North Bay on Oct. 16 at 11 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites.
The proposed change would see more Almaguin communities becoming part of Nipissing, including the townships of Joly and Strong and the villages of South River and Sundridge, reducing the footprint of the current riding.
Justice George Valin, commission chair, says the purpose of the meeting, which anyone is invited to attend, is to get feedback on the proposed electoral changes.
“I’m not saying we’re going to change Parry Sound/Muskoka and Nipissing,” he said.
He says if they receive convincing submissions they will make some changes, as they will across the province.
“It is what it is, it is a proposal,” he said. “It’s the starting point for discussing.”
Clement said that he hopes citizens, especially those in the impacted region, will be able to convince the commission to keep the riding as it is now.
“I was shocked when I saw the boundary changes … I did not expect any boundary changes, didn’t want any boundary changes. It is not up to me as a parliamentarian, it is up to the system where a judge does it and two panelists who are independent of the government. The best way for the residents to get their views across is to go to the public meeting in North Bay and express their discontent with these arbitrary changes ... it’s my attitude that is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Valin says the bottom line is that they are trying to achieve the creation of electoral districts with 106,000 to 113,000 people.
He says the existing 10 electoral districts in Northern Ontario occupy 87 per cent of the province’s landmass.
“If you go on population only they would probably only have six electoral districts. We have tried to keep the 10,” he said.
He says in order to maintain the 10 electoral districts they must stay within the rules of the Act, which requires that there cannot be a variance of 25 per cent above or below that 106,000 -113,000.
“In order to maintain the 10 electoral districts we have to do some adjusting to stay within that rule,” he said.
Valin says there is an additional rule, which dictates that it is possible to go less than 25 per cent if there are exceptional circumstances. An exception that exists in Kenora, with a landmass larger than the country of Germany.
“It’s just geographically unmanageable to make it any larger,” he said, adding that the population is only half of what it should be.
He says although the commission was prepared to maintain 10 electoral districts for Northern Ontario, it was not prepared to adopt that exceptional circumstance anywhere else in the north.
“This is something ultimately that Parliament is going to have to address in a more significant way, but that’s not for this commission to decide, we don’t legislate,” said Valin.
In order to meet their goal of saving the 10 electoral districts for the north, Valin says they had to redraw some boundaries.
“I believe there were changes to every electoral district other than Sault Ste. Marie,” he said. “It happened to be as close as we could make it given the geography of what is around there.”
Valin says he recognizes that they have taken something from the northeast part of Parry Sound and put it with Nipissing.
“We are aware of that. We think there is some community of interest between that area and North Bay,” he said. “I recognize there is some community of interest between Parry Sound and Burk’s Falls.”
Valin says they were tough decisions, but if the north wants 10 electoral districts the changes had to be made.
“These are the ones that we think work best,” he said. “At the public hearings if we’re convinced otherwise, we’ll make changes.”
Due to an increase in population, the commission has also proposed an increase of 15 electoral districts in Southern Ontario.
The independent commission does have the final say. It will go to Parliament, where it goes to committee, where MPs will get a “chance to take a run at it.”
“That committee makes recommendations to us but we’re not required to accept any of those recommendations,” said Valin. “We can if we think they’re good, but as you might suspect, they are highly politically motivated at that point.”