Proposal to split Saint John into two federal ridings baffles MP

·9 min read
Some New Brunswickers may be voting in different ridings in the next federal election if proposed changes to the province's electoral map are implemented. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Some New Brunswickers may be voting in different ridings in the next federal election if proposed changes to the province's electoral map are implemented. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long plans to oppose proposed changes to the riding he represents, among the most dramatic of the changes recommended for New Brunswick by a federal boundary commission.

"I'm not happy about it I don't like it, and I'm going to fight it," Long said Friday about the plan to divide the city of Saint John into two separate electoral districts.

According to a report released Thursday on electoral reform in the province, everything east of the St. John River should join the Kennebecasis Valley, while everything west of it should join Charlotte County in a monster of a riding that stretches 8,600-square-kilometres into parts of Queens and Kings counties.

"You know, I'm sitting in my office in Market Square, looking out the window, looking across at the port, looking across at west Saint John. To think that that would be a part of a riding that goes down to St. Stephen — it's just not acceptable. It will hurt Saint John in the long term," said Long.

He said Saint John should have one MP focused on the needs of the city. Instead, he said, west siders will become a minority where their position will be diluted in an expansive riding largely made up of rural communities.

"It's not two MPs. Let's be very clear on that. It's not Saint John has two MPs. Sure. There's two ridings with Saint John's name in them," said Long.

Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick
Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick

The recommendation to split Saint John was among several made in the report released by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick.

According to the report, the province will maintain 10 federal seats, but all will look a little different in the next federal election, if the propsals are adopted.

Some of the changes suggested by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick, including in the Moncton area, are linguistically based.

For example, in the northwest, the commission has suggested that several francophone communities be moved from the electoral district of Miramichi-Grand Lake to Acadie-Bathurst.

The three-member commission includes Lucie A. LaVigne, chair of the commission and a judge of the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, Condé Grondin, a retired professor of political science, and Thomas Riordon, a retired judge of the Court of Queen's Bench of New Brunswick.

Across the country, most provinces will maintain the same number of seats under the proposed changes, although Quebec will lose one seat and Ontario will gain one. The biggest change is proposed in Alberta, which could see three additional seats.

The report proposes growing Parliament by four seats in the next federal election, which would bring the total to 342.

Full details of the proposed changes in New Brunswick can be found online, but here are some highlights:

Acadie-Bathurst

The commission said it initially didn't believe that any changes were needed in Acadie-Bathurst, until Keith Chiasson, the MLA for Tracadie-Sheila, brought the issue to their attention. He identified the communities of Rivière-du-Portage, Haut-Rivière-du-Portage and Brantville.

"Chiasson submitted that the populations of these communities are predominantly francophone and Acadian and that their linguistic profile and sense of belonging align with the Acadian Peninsula and the electoral district of Acadie-Bathurst, where they go for services and daily needs, such as schools, health services, shops, businesses, financial and legal services, and provincial and federal government offices."

Beauséjour

The commission proposes to move a small part of the City of Moncton from Beauséjour to the proposed riding of Moncton-Dieppe. The change would still leave Beauséjour riding with a population of 88,490, putting it at 14 per cent above the provincial electoral quota.

The commission said it isn't concerned with the numbers because Beauséjour would be "geographically the smallest rural electoral district."

Fredericton (suggested name: Fredericton-Oromocto)

The new district would consist mainly of the city of Fredericton and surrounding areas, plus the town of Oromocto. What's left of the old riding of Fredericton would be distributed to other ridings, including the parish of Burton going to Saint John-St. Croix.

The new district would be smaller in area because of an increase in population in the capital region.

Fundy Royal (suggested name: Fundy Royal—Riverview)

The commission proposes that Riverview be added to the electoral district of Fundy Royal. It makes sense, according to the report because of an existing "community of interest as well as historical ties between the Town of Riverview and the riding of Fundy Royal."

"In fact, the Commission received comments from a resident of the Town of Riverview expressing her frustration with the fact that the Town of Riverview was divided between two ridings and commenting that many did not seem to know where the dividing line between the districts was situated," states the report.

The town of Quispamsis would be moved from Fundy Royal to the proposed riding of Saint John-Kennebecasis.

Madawaska-Restigouche

Because the region's population is 22 per cent below the provincial quota, the proposal is to move several communities into the riding, including the town of Grand Falls, the parishes of Grand Falls and Drummond, as well a the village of Drummond and the rural community of Saint-André, which are now in the riding of Tobique-Mactaquac.

The commission noted that the areas have historical ties as well as common interests. From 1966 to 1996, they were in the same riding as the communities of Madawaska County, when it was known as Madawaska-Victoria.

"In this region, too, the linguistic and cultural specificities of the communities weighed in the balance," noted the commission.

Miramichi-Grand Lake

The commission proposes that the electoral district of Miramichi—Grand Lake include the current territory plus the area south to the parish of Sheffield and parts of the parishes of Maugerville and Canning, which are now part of the electoral district of Fredericton. The proposal would also include moving the parish of Waterborough from Fundy Royal.

Part of the regional municipality of Tracadie would be moved from Miramichi-Grand Lake into Acadie-Bathurst.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe (suggested name: Moncton-Dieppe)

The commission proposes that the town of Riverview be removed from the district and become part of the proposed district of Fundy Royal-Riverview.

Officials recognized the ties that unite the three municipalities of Greater Moncton, but because of population growth (nearly 12,000 people in 10 years), it was no longer possible to keep them together, since it put the area 31 per cent over the provincial electoral quota

The commission said it considered moving parts of Dieppe and Riverview into other ridings, but that would have diluted "the francophone critical mass and the loss of a francophone municipality (Dieppe) would endanger the effective representation of the francophone minority in the suggested new riding, in that it would weaken that minority's political influence and diminish its ability to voice its concerns effectively."

New Brunswick Southwest (suggested name: Saint John-St. Croix)

The commission proposes adding that part of the current electoral district of Saint John-Rothesay lying west of the St. John River and Saint John Harbour, plus the parish of Burton, which is in the current electoral district of Fredericton.

The commission proposes removing the villages of Harvey and McAdam, the parishes of Dumfries, Kingsclear, McAdam, Manners Sutton and Prince William, the Rural Community of Hanwell, and the Kingsclear Indian Reserve No. 6, and moving them to the proposed electoral district of Tobique-Mactaquac.

"The current riding covers approximately 11,800 square kilometres and includes constituents living on three islands, a situation that presents unique travel and representation challenges. With the proposed new boundaries, the size of the riding will decrease to approximately 8,600 square kilometres, making it more manageable."

The commission noted that the cities of Fredericton and Moncton asked that their cities be reunited in one riding.

"In stark contrast to this, we are now proposing that the City of Saint John be divided, by using the St. John River and Saint John Harbour as a natural topographical division, and transferring the part lying west of this dividing line to the proposed electoral district of Saint John-St. Croix."

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick

Saint John-Rothesay (suggested name: Saint John-Kennebecasis)

The proposed new riding would include the current territory plus the town of Quispamsis, which is now part of the riding of Fundy Royal. The proposed riding would remove that part which lies west of the St. John River and Saint John Harbour, with that area moving to Saint John-St. Croix.

"The commission is of the view that the Town of Quispamsis has a close community of interest with the more urban area of the City of Saint John and the Town of Rothesay," states the report.

"In the past, some have asked that the Town of Rothesay and the Town of Quispamsis, commonly referred to as the Kennebecasis Valley, remain in the same electoral district, given the obvious shared economic community of interests and geographic proximity."

Tobique-Mactaquac

The commission proposes that the electoral district of Tobique-Mactaquac extend its southwesterly boundary to include the villages of Harvey and McAdam, the parishes of Dumfries, Kingsclear, McAdam, Manners Sutton and Prince William, the Rural Community of Hanwell, and the Kingsclear Indian Reserve No. 6, which are in the current district of New Brunswick Southwest.

It also proposed removed sections that are within the new proposed limit of the City of Fredericton and moving them to the proposed electoral district of Fredericton-Oromocto. It also proposes removing the Parish of Grand Falls, the Town of Grand Falls, the Parish of Drummond, the Village of Drummond, and the Rural Community of Saint-André, and moving them to the proposed electoral district of Madawaska-Restigouche.

Why change now?

According to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick, electoral boundaries have to be reviewed after every 10-year census to ensure ridings are of equal size.

Based on the formula set out in the Constitution, the 2022 report recommends that the number of electoral districts in New Brunswick remain at 10.

According to the redistribution website, New Brunswick has 2.07 per cent of Canada's population, so with 10 seats, the province will have 2.95 per cent of the seats in Parliament.

But there's still a lot of work to do before the recommendations are put into place, including public hearings and referral to a designated parliamentary committee. Ten public hearings will be held in communities throughout the province in September, followed by one virtual meeting on Sept. 29.

According to the timeline on the Redistribution 2022 website, the new representation order will be proclaimed in September 2023. Then the boundaries would become official "on the first dissolution of Parliament at least seven months after the date of proclamation."

"This period gives Elections Canada, political parties, candidates and sitting MPs the time to prepare for the next general election."

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