Greater Madawaska Mayor Hunt concerned about new riding boundaries

·8 min read

Calabogie -- Greater Madawaska (GM) Mayor Brian Hunt is not pleased with the new proposed boundaries which would see his municipality removed from the federal riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.

“When this new motion came forward, Greater Madawaska was very unhappy with it,” he told Renfrew County council last Wednesday. “The people of Greater Madawaska, and it is a very rural township, we conduct our business, social circles, family gatherings, our doctoring, all within Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.”

The Federal Electoral Districts Redistribution 2022 commission has recommended replacing Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke with a new riding known as Algonquin-Renfrew-Pembroke with the lone exception of Greater Madawaska, which would instead be part of the new Lanark-Frontenac. The commission’s goal was to make the ridings more even in size, as well as add a new riding to Ontario. Ridings should have no more than 145,747 and no less than 87,443, he noted. However, the existing riding which encompasses the City of Pembroke, County of Renfrew, along with part of the territorial district of Nipissing, has a population of 107,420, which is well within the parameters.

The redistribution would see the new riding have a population of 116,900 and encompass not only the City of Pembroke and all of the County of Renfrew, except Greater Madawaska, but also part of the territorial district of Nipissing, including South Algonquin. As well, there would be the new addition of part of the City of Ottawa which is basically the area towards Carp from Arnprior.

The fact GM is part of Renfrew County was not lost on the assembled mayors and reeves of the county last week who unanimously approved a resolution by Greater Madawaska opposing the redrawing of the riding lines. In the recorded vote, all voted in favour.

Mayor Hunt asked for the support and said removing GM from the riding makes no sense.

“We have spent years making inroads with the MP and MPP and they know all the challenges of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke and to move us out to Lanark-Frontenac is like starting all over,” he said. “We see it as very challenging for our ratepayers.”

It would be very difficult to drive to visit the MP or MPP of the Lanark riding for residents of his municipality, he stressed.

“If you are travelling from Griffith/Matawatchan, it would probably be two to two and a half hours to visit a constituency office,” he said.

It would also necessitate building new relationships with a new MP and potentially MPP.

“We have to build that relationship and get them to know the challenges we as a township in Renfrew County face.

“We don’t think it makes sense,” he said. “We feel that where they took the boundary of Carleton Place outside Arnprior and a piece of Ottawa they are adding to Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, we feel they could have drawn the lines to leave more in Ottawa.”

Leaving Greater Madawaska in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke makes the most sense, he stressed.

He said he was also afraid down the years it could change the county boundaries as well. He said if the township is voting with Lanark, perhaps there would be a push to move the township to Lanark County as well. He said this would have a very negative impact on Renfrew County.

“Greater Madawaska has a small population, but we are a net contributor to Renfrew County because of our assessment. We have a pretty large assessment base.”

Meeting With MPs

There are meetings set up with Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant and Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston riding MP Scott Reid to discuss the issue, Mayor Hunt said.

Having GM in the same riding as the rest of the county is vitally important, he added, noting many times at county council the warden stresses the importance of contacting the local MP on an issue.

“While the rest of the councillors sitting here would reach out to one common one, we would have to reach out to Lanark,” he said. “To try to explain the challenges of Renfrew County but they are in Lanark and maybe the position of Lanark does not go hand in hand with Renfrew County.”

Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon, who previously served as mayor of Greater Madawaska, said he supported the comments from Mayor Hunt. He pointed out it is difficult getting relevant census information and that has been a concern for years.

“Census information is crucial in a number of matters when we are talking about health, programing or funding,” he said.

This would further confuse things and it would also be an issue for federal and provincial funding.

Many services are done in cooperation in the county and removing Greater Madawaska from the riding does not recognize this, he said. Emergency plans and fire and mutual aid work within the county, he said.

“We don’t want to have a layer of confusion,” he said.

“I think this is a mistake and I think it was a map drawing exercise and there wasn’t a lot of thought put into it,” he said.

The new riding boundaries don’t make sense, he stressed.

“They can move a lot of boundaries south of Highway 7 and not cause a problem,” he said. “Why play around north of Highway 7?”

Having the county collaborate and support a presentation on the issue would also be helpful, he said.

Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue said balanced representation is an important element of democracy. He said the examining of electoral districts occurs on a semi-regular basis. However, the demographics currently and the ones proposed are a small challenge.

“There has been a Renfrew County since 1861,” he said. “The ridings have come and gone.”

Moving a large municipality out of the riding does not make sense, he said.

“This level of change does not support a fairly wrenching change for our community,” he said. “This is ill considered for the community,” he added.

Pleased with Support

In speaking to the Leader, Mayor Hunt said he was pleased to have the support of county council on this issue. He said he was made aware of the issue by Mrs. Gallant and proceeded to read the entire lengthy document and read it through, as did the township CAO.

“We felt it was compulsory to oppose this,” he said.

GM council met and passed a resolution opposing this and also asked for the county to oppose it. He said he was pleased to see the unanimous endorsement at county council and knowing the warden will be a presenter on this issue to the commission.

As well, Mayor Hunt will be a presenter. He said when speaking to the commission he will point out his township with about 1,000 square miles is very rural and sparsely populated. With a population of about 2,500 permanent residents, it doubles in size during the summer with cottagers.

“Calabogie is close to Lanark, but Griffith, Madawaska and Mount St. Patrick are very removed,” he said. “They seldom have any need to go to Lanark.”

He said having to drive so long to meet with an MP would not make sense and it would be difficult for the MP to learn the needs of the area as well.

“It also would certainly lead to political division in the County of Renfrew,” he added.

He said while Lanark is a good neighbour to the county, they are not always necessarily in synch on opinions. Having an MP have to espouse two different opinions would be a challenge, he said.

“We feel we are part of a community here,” he said. “This extracts us from that and puts us in an area we are not familiar with.”

Greater Madawaska has also been a strong supporter of local doctor recruitment and advocacy including for the Renfrew County Virtual Triage Assessment Centre (RCVTAC).

“This is an area Renfrew County fought long and hard for,” he said.

Removing the township from the riding is not in the best interests of GM, he stressed.

Mayor Hunt is hopeful the proposal for the new riding can be turned around.

When he looks at the new riding, he has a hard time understanding how removing 2,500 people through Greater Madawaska and then adding people from a part of Ottawa makes sense.

“I fully understand they are trying to get the number of voters in the riding closer, but when you are looking at 2,500 people, just leave 2,500 people with Ottawa and leave 2,500 people with Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke,” he said.

Writing Letters of Support

Mayor Hunt said he will fight this change by going as a delegation and through a letter writing campaign and is urging township residents and others who are concerned to do so as well.

“What this does to our township, it is not worth it,” Mayor Hunt said. “I would like to request any resident who agrees with my position that they write a letter as well.”

Those wishing to make a presentation must complete a Public Hearing Participation Form which can be found at www.redecoupage-redistribution-2022.ca. The form must be filed by September 25.

A submission may be made in writing as an alternative to appearing at an in-person or virtual hearing.

The Public Hearing Participation Form, or alternatively written submissions (for those who only wish to make a submission in writing), may be filed by email or by mail to:

ON@redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca Ms. Paula Puddy, Commission Secretary Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario PO Box 37018 Southdale London, Ontario N6E 3T3

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader