Four Thompsonites made presentations to Manitoba’s Electoral Divisions Boundaries Commission at a public hearing Sept. 11, with most saying that the body’s proposed retooling of provincial constituencies for the 2020 election reduces the north’s importance and creates huge, unwieldy ridings.
Blair Hudson told the commission, which is headed by Manitoba Chief Justice Richard Chartier, that he believes minor tinkering could keep the existing northern electoral divisions within the legislated population range and doesn’t support combining Flin Flon and The Pas and creating a new electoral division called Kameesak out of Swan River and much of the Interlake area.
“I’m very concerned about the changes that are potentially going to occur,” said Hudson. “We’re about to lose 25 per cent of our representation in Northern Manitoba by going from four to three. Now more than ever we need access to our provincial government and access to our MLAs.”
Chartier said that while Manitoba’s legislation allows population in each division north of the 53rd parallel to range from 16,827 to 28,034 – 25 per cent above or below the quotient of 22,427, which is derived by dividing Manitoba’s population in the 2016 census by its 57 electoral divisions, the Supreme Court has also said that, as long as effective representation is maintained, parity must be the primary consideration when reapportioning districts, to ensure that each person’s vote carries about the same weight. Currently, he said, a Flin Flon voter has about one-and-a-half times the influence of one from The Pas because the current Flin Flon riding is more than 30 per cent below the quotient. He also said that the commission sought to keep residents with perceived common interests – such as Oji-Cree First Nations – in the same riding.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to separate the constituencies by race, frankly,” said Hudson.
Danielle Adams, speaking on behalf of herself and former Thompson MLA Steve Ashton, said she knows from working for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton about the difficulties of representing a large riding. She also said the electoral map proposed in the commission’s interim report, which includes most of the north in the Keewatinook division, stretching from the boundary with Nunavut to the bottom of Lake Winnipeg on the east side of the lake, ignores transportation networks.
“As much as you feel like you’re connecting people … you’re making it more difficult for them to access their MLA,” she said, noting that Lac Brochet, Brochet and Tadoule Lake all have winter roads that lead to Lynn Lake, which is in the Flin Flon riding.
Penny Byer said the interests of Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake, which could be included in the Keewatinook electoral division, are different from those of the Island Lake communities, which would be in the same riding, and that it would be difficult to find an elected representative who could effectively represent such a diverse group of constituents. She suggested that the commission cut their proposed Keewatinook division in half by adding Churchill to the Thompson division.
“Churchill is such a good fit for Thompson,” she said. “It’s a natural corridor and a natural fit.”
She also said that sometimes it’s necessary to ignore the numbers in favour of other considerations.
“People are not just numbers,” she said.
Dave Turpie, who has served as the returning officer for the Thompson electoral division in a past provincial election and was twice assistant returning officer in federal elections, said he supported adding Nelson House to the Thompson riding as the two communities have shared interests and noted that the current Flin Flon riding, which includes Nelson House, makes little logistical sense, as he knows from his returning officer experience.
“I had a hell of a time getting transportation for Oxford House and had to train people from Nelson House because they couldn’t get to Flin Flon,” he said.
Turpie also noted that the north is getting relatively smaller compared to the rest of the province as its population is growing less quickly.
Prior to hearing submissions, Chartier said that the commission members had open minds about changing their interim report, provided they still fulfilled their mandate.
“It’s not etched in stone,” he said.
When two weeks of public hearings wrap up Sept. 20, the commission will take a week off before reconvening to produce their final report. That report must be submitted to the speaker of the legislature and the lieutenant-governor before Dec. 31 and will become law Jan. 1 of next year, which means it will be in place for the next scheduled provincial election in 2020.
He also said the turnout to the Thompson hearing – about 10 people – was larger than the number who had shown up at earlier hearings in Winnipeg and Churchill.