Greens left out as PCs, Liberals create commission to draft new election map

·4 min read
Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau said appointing only Progressive Conservatives and Liberals to a commission that will redraw electoral boundaries undermines the entire process.   (Jacques Poitras/CBC News - image credit)
Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau said appointing only Progressive Conservatives and Liberals to a commission that will redraw electoral boundaries undermines the entire process. (Jacques Poitras/CBC News - image credit)

The Green Party is denouncing what it calls "collusion" and "gerrymandering" after it was excluded from a supposedly independent commission that will redraw New Brunswick's 49 election ridings.

The decision means a group of six Progressive Conservatives and Liberals will craft a new electoral map with no input from the third party in the legislature.

"It undermines the whole process," said Green MLA and house leader Kevin Arseneau. "It undermines public confidence and the credibility of our role as parliamentarians and the institutions that we have in place."

Arseneau said the six people, whom he would not identify, are "very tied to political parties," including a former premier and a prominent PC supporter who will co-chair the commission.

That taints the process, he said.

"There will always be a doubt now … and just that is unacceptable."

Integrity of commission questioned

Even Premier Blaine Higgs acknowledged that it's a "fair comment" that people who vote for parties other than PCs and Liberals may question the integrity of the commission.

Provincial law requires that an independent commission redraw the 49 electoral districts in the province every 10 years to reflect changing population numbers.

Arseneau tried to raise the issue in the legislature Friday, but Speaker Bill Oliver cut him off, saying he was on the verge of revealing information from a closed-door meeting of the legislative administration committee.

Under the law, LAC chooses the commissioners and the provincial cabinet must appoint its selections.

CBC News
CBC News

Arseneau says several weeks ago, the premier's chief of staff Louis Léger asked the Greens for names so they could be reviewed.

The Green MLA said he refused because it's up to LAC to choose the names. The law makes no mention of the executive branch being able to review the choices.

He also said the Liberals were complicit in going along with the PCs.

"It's very clear that it was the premier's office and Louis Léger who chose the people are are going to be on this commission by back-door deals with the official opposition," Arseneau said.

"And basically we got punished for not playing the back-door deal," he said.

He said he wasn't elected MLA for Kent North "to come here and rubber-stamp the deals the PCs and the Liberals do together."

Commissioners 'highly credible'

Liberal Leader Roger Melanson refused to discuss the LAC meeting on Thursday, where Arseneau tried to get the Green Party's two names added to the commission.

But he confirmed that the Liberals submitted proposed names to Léger for review before the meeting.

He said he was satisfied the public will have no reason to question the integrity of the redistricting process.

"To my knowledge, the decision was made in compliance with the law," he said.

"LAC made a decision and I'm confident … that the commissioners will do a very good job. They're highly credible and qualified."

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

He also refused to name them or to say whether the ex-premier co-chairing the commission is a Liberal.

Arseneau told reporters he doesn't know for sure that there will be any PC-Liberal collusion, but he could imagine tradeoffs between the two parties, where parts of one riding are cut off and moved to benefit one party in return for changes elsewhere that help the other.

Higgs said he couldn't imagine any effort to dilute the Green vote through the new map.

"There's no reason for us, speaking from our side, to disadvantage the Green Party. I don't see that's the process we're trying to unfold," he said.

Higgs did suggest the process may need to be reviewed to take into account that third parties have won more support and elected more MLAs in recent elections.

New map to be in place by 2024

The last time the map was redrawn under the law, the PCs and Liberals were the only parties in the legislature.

The electoral boundaries law sets out a process that calculates the average number of voters in each of the province's 49 ridings, known as the "electoral quotient."

The commissioners are required to draft a map in which ridings are "as close as reasonably possible" to the quotient. They can deviate by up to 15 per cent to accommodate what are called "communities of interest" and other factors.

And in "extraordinary circumstances" such as the need to ensure fair linguistic representation, the commission can deviate from the quotient by up to 25 per cent.

The legislation requires the commission be in place two years before the next provincial election, which is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2024.

Arseneau's complaint about the commission came on the final sitting day of the legislature before it adjourned for the summer.

Among the pieces of legislation that received royal assent on Friday were a one-year cap on rents charged to tenants and an overhaul of the child protection system.

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