Commission sticks with plan to split Green leader's riding on new election map
The independent commission redrawing New Brunswick's 49 electoral ridings is sticking with its plan to carve up the Fredericton riding represented by Green Party Leader David Coon.
Despite objections from residents during a round of public consultations, Coon's Fredericton South riding will be split between two new constituencies on the election map in the commission's final report.
"The commission does not believe that the evidence received during the current round of consultations is sufficient to make any changes with respect to this request," the commission writes in the report tabled at the legislature Monday morning.
Coon has represented Fredericton South, a downtown urban riding on the south side of the St. John River, since 2014.
The new map makes Regent Street, the city's main north-south artery, the dividing line between two new ridings, Fredericton South-Silverwood and Fredericton-Lincoln.
Commission co-chair Roger Clinch said the commission was asked by the city of Fredericton early in the process to create more "totally urban ridings" in the capital.
"In order to do that, we established the ridings the way that they are" while respecting the law, he said.
Last year, the Green Party was excluded from choosing members of the commission after objecting to having to submit names to the premier's office, instead of the legislature, for vetting.
The commission is co-chaired by Clinch, a former Progressive Conservative MP, and Camille Thériault, a former Liberal premier.
"I don't think it's for us to judge the makeup of the committee," Clinch said when asked if the Fredericton map might have been different with Green appointees involved.
"We were appointed to the committee, and we did the best that we could to apply the guiding principles across the province."
Coon said Monday there's no way to say for sure if there was a deliberate attempt to make it harder for him to get re-elected.
But he said he'll be filing an objection to the report because Fredericton's south-side downtown is a community of interest that shouldn't be divided between two ridings.
He also said the law should be changed so that political parties don't get to submit names for the commission.
"It needs to be actually and truly independent," he said.
The splitting of Coon's riding is one of the few proposals the commission refused to reconsider.
It did listen to residents of Neguac who argued against its original proposal to move the village into the riding of Tracadie.
The commission made the move so that the overwhelmingly Acadian village would be part of a majority-francophone riding.
But during the public hearings earlier this year, several Neguac residents including Mayor Georges Savoie said the village preferred to stay in the same riding as part of Miramichi.
Savoie said Monday he was glad the final proposal restores the riding as Miramichi Bay-Neguac.
"It's a good decision. It reflects the desire of the population to remain with the Miramichi, where we're getting our provincial services, and to have the MLA and the services from the same region," he said.
The commission also agreed to several other changes to its original map, including in Fredericton, Moncton and the southwest and northwest parts of the province.
Provincial law requires the election map to be redrawn every 10 years to take into account shifting population numbers.
Ridings must be roughly equal in the number of voters, though the commission is allowed to deviate from that by 15 per cent to reflect other factors, including local government boundaries, rural representation, linguistic representation and "communities of interest."
And in "extraordinary circumstances" the commission can deviate from the equal-representation number by up to 25 per cent.
Even with that latitude, the commission says in its report it couldn't avoid putting part of the new municipality of Cap-Acadie in the Tantramar riding.
Cap-Acadie Mayor Serge Léger questioned why the community, just created Jan. 1 under local government reform, would then be split between two provincial ridings.
Other residents said they wouldn't have effective representation in a majority anglophone riding.
But the commission says in its final report that the Tantramar riding would be too small — 29 per cent below the average number of voters — unless it included part of a neighbouring francophone community.
The report says the commission asked for a legal opinion and was told it had "no latitude to deviate from the absolute maximum deviation" of 25 per cent allowed by law.
The commission recommends the legislature pass legislation to create an exception to the 25-per-cent range for Tantramar before the next election.
Shediac-Beaubassin-Cap-Pelé Liberal MLA Jacques LeBlanc, whose riding includes Cap-Acadie, said the report was "disappointing" but he understood the commission had to respect the law.
He said he would look for other MLAs to support a bill to make an exception for Tantramar.
"That's the only solution that I can find at this time to move forward."
Other changes from the proposed map to the final version include:
Removing part of the city of Moncton from the mostly rural riding of Champdoré. Rural residents argued their clout would be weakened if a section of the fast-growing city were in the riding.
Shifting the village of Saint-Quentin into the same riding as Grand Falls.
Keeping Campobello Island in the Saint-Croix riding as it is now, after initially recommending adding it to Fundy-The Isles-Saint John Lorneville, formerly named Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West.
Moving part of the Marysville area of Fredericton into Fredericton-Grand Lake to avoid splitting that part of the city between three ridings.
The community of New Denmark will be part of the Carleton-Victoria riding rather than in Grand Falls-St. Quentin, as the commission proposed at first.
Under the electoral boundaries law, any two MLAs can file a written objection to any of the final recommendations.
The commission then has another 30 days to consider those objections but isn't obligated to heed them.
After that, the provincial cabinet is required by law to adopt the new ridings without changes.
The next provincial election is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024.