Public and MPs debate proposed federal ridings for Saint John

·4 min read
Resident Ralph Forte speaks in support of the new boundaries at Thursday's meeting.  (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)
Resident Ralph Forte speaks in support of the new boundaries at Thursday's meeting. (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)

Local citizens and members of parliament made arguments for and against two proposed federal ridings at a public hearing in Rothesay on Thursday.

The St. John River would divide the proposed new ridings, with the riding of Saint John-Kennebecasis to the east and Saint John-St. Croix to the west.

In his presentation to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick, Ralph Forte, who said he lives in what would become Saint John-Kennebecasis, spoke in favour of the split because the number of MPs representing Saint John would double.

"It boggles my mind that anyone would be against more advocates for a municipality," he said to the commission.

Concerns raised over mix of rural and urban communities

Wayne Long, MP for Saint John-Rothesay, disagreed with Forte's assessment.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

"I do not accept the argument that two MPs are better than one," he said. He told the commission that these MPs won't truly represent the city.

"These ridings have Saint John in their name, but [the riding that contains] St. John West will have arguably 65 to 70 per cent of it represented in Charlotte County… So that's not two MPs for Saint John."

William Thompson, a resident of Saint John West, shares Long's concerns.

"I think splitting off west Saint John from the rest of the city is a major error," he said during his presentation. "I live in west Saint John, I've lived there about 40 years, to have it cut off from the rest of the city is telling me that my issues, be they taxes, be they infrastructure, are being downplayed."

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

He said there's nothing wrong with the MP who represents the riding of New Brunswick Southwest, which is John Williamson.

"But his community of interest is made up of smaller municipalities that are pursuing different agendas than the city of Saint John," Thompson said.

Along with Saint John West, the new Saint John-St. Croix riding would include  St. Stephen, St. Andrews and St. George.

Thompson said the needs of a municipality with several thousand residents are different from that of a city with tens of thousands.

"I believe we should have our members of parliament clustered to look after municipalities of similar nature," he said.

Addressing the argument that Saint John would have two MPs, he said that there's a possibility Saint John will have no MPs who live in the city, if rural communities are also included in both new ridings.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

Williamson also spoke at the meeting in support of the new boundaries. He said MPs shouldn't be thought of as representing cities.

"It would be wrong to think of MPs as city hall's echo in parliament," he said.

He said MPs represent their constituents.

Williamson said Saint John would have more representation in parliament after being split into two ridings.

He said whether the two MPs were part of the same party or not, "there is a natural competition that exists between members of parliament to respond to local issues."

Williamson said he's ready to represent the families of west Saint John.

He added that he's never lived in Saint John, but he often drives through it and attends meetings in the city.

Wayne Long criticizes hearing location 

During his presentation, Long said he was disappointed the hearing wasn't held in Saint John. The hearing took place at the Bill McGuire Centre in Rothesay.

"This hearing should be in the city proper. And it affects west Saint John more than anybody. And I think… the hearing should be in west Saint John."

In response, Lucie A. LaVigne, the commission's chair, said the location was chosen pragmatically.

The commission chooses a location based on what's available on the day, cost, distance from the rest of the riding, the venue's cancellation policy and parking options, among other considerations.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

She added that New Brunswick gets one hearing per riding. "We have 10 ridings in New Brunswick, and we decided that we would have one [hearing] per riding," she said.

She said Nova Scotia has 11 ridings, but only eight hearings.

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 69 would have loved to host the hearing, Long said after LaVigne's explanation.

In response, LaVigne said, "I'm sure a lot of other places would have loved to have us too. But we do have to choose one."