Friday, September 21, 2012

Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission Submission

As Noah has noted, I appeared in front of the federal electoral boundaries commission this afternoon. Here's a somewhat abridged and polished version of what I had to say - with a general focus on the value of being able to define boundaries based on better evidence in future revisions than we have available now.
In its interim report, this commission identified dissatisfaction with Saskatchewan's boundaries as they stand today. But that dissatisfaction doesn't necessarily point to a particular solution: precisely because Saskatchewan's cities are all divided up into pie-slice ridings, we don't have any frame of reference as to what options might work better.

As a result, I see two goals which we should meet with our new boundaries.

First, there's the need to better recognize communities of interest based on the information we have now. But in addition, there's a need to gather some more meaningful data to ensure we can make more clear choices in the future.

In my view, the development of some purely urban ridings is a huge step forward on the former front. But the commission's interim boundaries are equally useful on the latter - based on both the comparisons we'll be able to make to the present-day ridings, and the range of boundaries set up for the future.

In particular, we'll be able to directly compare:

 - whether bedroom communities be paired with urban areas (as in White City and Balgonie) or rural areas (as in Martensville and other bedroom communities of Saskatoon);

- whether Moose Jaw in particular is best represented if it's linked to Regina (as in the current Palliser configuration), or if it becomes the major centre in a largely rural riding of Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan;

- whether urban boundaries should be drawn primarily based on major arteries (as has mostly been done in the new Regina ridings) or geographic factors (which seem more prevalent in Saskatoon); and

- whether ridings should be drawn as exclusively urban or include some rural component - which can be determined both based on a contrast among the new ridings (comparing the exclusively-urban Regina Lewvan, Saskatoon Centre-University and Saskatoon West to the partially-rural Regina Qu’Appelle, Wascana, and Saskatoon Grasswood), and based on a comparison to the discontent with today's boundaries.

Now, the above isn't to say I don't see some room to tweak the proposed boundaries. In particular, I suggest:
- Treating suburban or commuter areas as a separate type of neighbourhood which should be grouped together where possible;
- Establishing lower initial population levels for urban centres based on the expectation that urbanization will continue;
- Matching boundaries at the municipal and provincial levels where possible; and
- Making minor changes to ensure that the new boundaries better capture communities of interest without - including by dividing both Regina's Walsh Acres/Lake Ridge areas and the new ridings of Lloydminster-Battlefords-Rosthern and Kindersley/Rosetown/Humboldt on a north/south basis rather than east/west

Ultimately, though, the goal in designing our new boundaries should be not only to reflect communities of interest now, but also to encourage further evolution of our boundaries based on better information. And again, the commission's proposal is a significant step forward on both fronts.

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