FEDERAL ELECTORAL BOUNDARY COMMISSION STATEMENT: New Liskeard Public Meeting - October 15, 2012

1.      I’d like to welcome the Boundary Commissioners to our region. I make this presentation as the elected representative for Timmins-James Bay but I am also drawing on my experience as a journalist and author of six published books on the history of Northern Ontario. I know very well all the communities being affected. I have been honoured to work with representatives from all regions of the north. 

2.      Je comprends les problèmes auxquels font face les diverses communautés du Nord-Est de l'Ontario. J'ai travaillé dur pour développer des bonnes relations avec les organisations économiques, culturelles et historiques dans le Nord. Je ne suis pas préoccupé par les modifications proposées à partir d'un point de vue partisan. Pour moi, la question principale est ce qui est juste et ce qui va mieux refléter les besoins des citoyens du Nord. 

3.      I’d like to put on the record that all the areas that could effect my riding are presently represented by New Democratic MPs and MPPs. All of them have strong NDP teams on the ground. Thus I am not making my observations out of partisan considerations but out of the larger issue of what is good for the communities and what is good for the north.

 4.      At the outset, I want to thank the Boundary Commission for their decision to maintain the status quo in terms of 10 ridings for the north. In the last boundary redistribution Northern Ontario lost the riding of Timiskaming-Cochrane. This necessitated the creation of consolidated mega-ridings. Many of these ridings are simply too big to service adequately and have only added to the sense of political alienation and isolation in the north. 

5.      And yet, in this latest round, it would have been entirely plausible that the north could have lost another riding even as political representation is being augmented in the south with 15 new urban ridings. Such a move would have only further exacerbated the political and cultural disequilibrium that has developed between the north and south inOntario. And so for maintaining the overall status quo, I thank you. 

6.      Representation by population is certainly one of the principles of democratic enfranchisement in Canada. But it has never been the only principle. This fact has been reiterated by both Supreme Court decisions and recently in the case of the Electoral Boundary Commission in Miramichi. If rep by pop was the only consideration this nation would have failed many years ago. The success of Canadian democracy has been based on the ongoing attempt to balance the principle of both individual and collective rights. There is nothing neat or scientific about the matter. Parliamentary representation is the result of a series of historic, regional, constitutional and language compromises. 

7.      Thus Prince Edward Island has four MPs and two senators in a Province roughly the same population size as the City of Sudbury. 

8.     Quebec has had a weighted representation to reflect the issue of language and cultural cohesion. Across the country, riding size varies depending on regional need. For example we have Yukon with 34,000 people, Western Arctic with 41,000 people and Labrador with 21,000. If the only lens was the principle of representation by population none of these regions would have voices in the House of Commons. Likewise, if representation by population were applied to the rest of the country there would be a loss of seats in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Many of these ridings have population bases smaller than the present riding of Timmins-James Bay. 

9.      I think we would all agree that maintaining variety in terms of riding size is essential for ensuring a larger political cohesion and ensures that Canada isn’t just weighted in favour of densely populated urban and suburban experience. 

10.    In Ontario, however, the divergent realities between rural north and urban south has made an equilibrium almost impossible to achieve. In fact, over the last 25 years a major political and social divide has emerged as northern ridings continue to grow in size while diminishing in political weight at both the Provincial and Federal levels. 

11.    The riding of Timmins-James Bay is now larger than Great Britain. Much of the riding has no road access. It is cheaper for someone in Toronto to fly to Paris for the weekend than it is for one of my constituents to fly from Peawanuck to meet me at my office inTimmins. 

THREE PRINCIPLES

 

12.    However, it is not the objective of the Boundary Commission to compare the very different realities between North and South Ontario. What we need to do today is to ensure that any changes within the north do not leave one riding more disadvantaged than a neighbouring riding. And so I would suggest that three important criteria must be utilized: 

13.    A).    Fairness and balance: that proposed changes ensure that all northern ridings assume a comparable load in terms of population and wherever possible geography.

14.    B)     Do no harm: that changes to the boundaries are mindful of the impacts that may have on service, representation and the ability of existing MP offices to accommodate new or potential dramatic changes.

15.    C)     Maintain existing communities of interest: The lines on the map should not be used to arbitrarily divide regions and communities.

 

POPULATION ISSUES

 

16.    In looking at the proposed changes to the north, the fairness and balance test fails in two key areas – in comparison between northwest and northeast and in comparison between urban and rural. 

17.    In the Northwest, the proposed changes are largely cosmetic. Kenora, for example, is not being asked to pick up any substantive new population or geographic obligations even though it will have a population that is 40% less than the proposed Timmins-Cochrane-JamesBay riding. 

18.    In the northeast, however, the changes being proposed are dramatic – particularly the proposal to move the Timiskaming region over to Nickel Belt and the proposal to move 6 communities on upper Highway 11 into Timmins-James Bay. It does not meet the fairness test to maintain status quo in the northwest while pursuing such dramatic changes in the northeast. 

19.    The northeast proposals are even more surprising given the imbalance that will be created between the rural and largely urban ridings. Under the status quo, the three urban ridings –Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Nipissing (North Bay) tend to have slightly larger populations than the much larger rural ridings. The population discrepancies are not large and it can be argued that it is fair to have slightly less population in the ridings with enormous geographic issues.  

20.    And yet, under the proposed changes, the urban ridings will be made smaller, while the riding of Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay and Nickel Belt-Timiskaming will be asked to take on more geography and more population. In fact, they will become larger by population than urban ridings. 

21.    The new Nipissing riding will have a population that is 11% smaller than the new riding of Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay and a landmass that is merely 4% of the size of our expanded riding. The urban riding of Sudburywill have a population smaller than Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay while the latter riding is being asked to assume 17,000 more kilometers of distance, six new communities and over 12,000 more people. This added geography and population is being added to the only riding in the northeast that is already dealing with numerous remote fly-in communities. 

While I understand the reason why there are great differences in the ridings of the north and the south of Ontario, there is no reason that there should be such obvious disparities within the ridings of Northeastern Ontario. 

DO NO HARM

 

18. This disequilibrium between the ridings of the northeast will put the residents of the proposed Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay at a disadvantage in three key areas: 

19.    A) Ability to interact with the elected Member of Parliament.

In the 1991 Supreme Court Carter decision the courts ruled that the right to vote is not just based on the equality of voting power but right to effective representation. Given the extent of the riding with its numerous fly-in communities and divergent economic and regional realities, the question of effective representation is already an issue – without adding an entirely new section of the north to the riding. This attempt to bump up population in large ridings like Timmins-James Bay and Nickel Belt is at odds with the Carter Decision that justified departures from voter parity on the grounds, “that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole, giving due weight to regional issues within the populace and geographic factors within the territory governed.” And yet, under the proposal, voters in urban centred ridings of the Northeast will have a much higher level of access and service than their neighbours in the large rural ridings. 

20.    B) Ability to access government services.  

All across northernCanadawe have seen a steady reduction in front line government services. In Timmins-James Bay, the MPs office has become the only link many communities have for a wide array of issues including pensions, immigration, and passports, EI, CANADA Revenue. Constituents in the urban riding of Sudbury will be served by three MPs and numerous government agencies. Residents in Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay will be forced to compete for access to MP outreach that is already overstretched.  

21.    C) Ability to access equitable government funding.

The funding of various programs is based on numerous factors. However, as more communities are added to the rural ridings of the north, competition for limited government funding grants will inevitably increase. 

22.    The new riding of Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay will see even more communities having to compete for the same piece of the funding pie. This means that the communities of Timmins, Moosonee, Cochrane,IroquoisFalls,KirklandLake, and Black River Matheson will now be competing with like-sized communities of Hearst, Kapuskasing, Val Rita, Moonbeam, Fauquier andSmoothRockFalls. 

23.    Meanwhile the smaller urban ridings will be able to focus on funding for just a few municipal needs. The fairness test fails yet again. 

THE ISSUE OF REPRESENTATION

 

24.    I would like to now to turn to the specific impacts the riding boundary changes will have on the present region of Timmins-James Bay. Cutting a line through Timiskaming will be very detrimental. This will be the third time in just over ten years that Timiskaming has been substantially affected by riding changes. In 2004, rural Timiskaming was moved into the riding of Timmins-James Bay while the urban part of the region Temiskaming Shores was represented byNorth Bay.

 25.    Under the new changes, the line has been arbitrarily moved along Highway 11 so that Englehart will now be in the new Nickel Belt riding, while its neighbouring community of  Tomstown is in Timmins-Cochrane-James Bay. Thus residents in one community will be just a 20 minute drive from their MP office, while their neighbours are 300 kilometres from their MP office. This line has no historic validity. It makes no sense from a geographic or economic point of view. The arbitrary nature of this line undermines any notion of fair representation.

 

26.    Matachewan and Elk Lake, which have historically been part of the Kirkland Lake gold region are now going to be divided from the Town of Kirkland Lake and will be represented by an MP from the Greater Sudbury area.

 27.    Residents of Matachewan coming into Kirkland Lake for shopping or services will no longer be able to use the MP office. They will be expected to be served by an office over 300 kilometres away.

 28.    Moving Timiskaming into Nickel Belt will create numerous problems for the agricultural communities of Timiskaming. There are no historic or economic lines of continuity between rural Timiskaming and the Sudbury region. How will a resident in Kenebeek be able to get adequate representation from an MP who is already facing numerous constituent and regional issues in the Sudbury region? 

29.    People in Nickel Belt overwhelmingly see themselves as part of the Greater Sudbury region. Timiskaming, however, is part of a growing farm community that is anchored along Highway 11.Northern Ontario has few areas with growing agricultural communities and Timiskaming is the centre of a new expansion in agriculture. I present this commission with maps that show the intricate connection between the Temiskaming farm belt and the regions of Matheson, Val Gagne and Cochrane. Cut a line through this region and the potential for further co-ordinated development will certainly be impacted. 

30.    There is no justification to dislodge so many rural communities from their historic links to the Highway 11 corridor. This move will make effective representation for large parts of the north virtually impossible. It will have clear economic and social impacts on the farming region.         

HISTORIC REALITIES

 

31.    In 2004, the Boundary Commission presented northerners with dramatic changes to how they had been traditionally represented. By and large the MPs and communities rose to meet this challenge. And yet, now it appears as if the Boundary Commission is asking the region to start again from scratch. If the Kapuskasing-Hearst region is moved out of its present riding, the lower part of Highway 11 will be forced to move into a riding with which it has no political history whatsoever. This clearly fails the basic “Do No Harm” test.

 

32.    So let’s look at the issue of the upper and lower parts of Highway 11. When Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing was created, the MP at the time, Brent St. Denis wisely chose two office locations – one along highway 17 and another to service the communities of Kapuskasing-Hearst.

 

33.    This model has been maintained by the present MP Carol Hughes. It is my understanding that Ms. Hughes is more than willing to continue providing MP services to this region of Highway 11. Maintaining status quo will ensure that this region retains effective electoral representation.

 

34.    I’ll explain now why the alternate scenario of moving these communities into Timmins-James Bay will create a situation whereby it becomes almost impossible to ensure quality representation across this vast distance.

 

35.    When the new riding of Timmins-James Bay was formed, two MP offices were established– one in Timmins and the second office in Kirkland Lake. This secondary office has ensured representation to communities throughout the Timiskaming district.

 

36.    My staff in the City of Timmins deals with a population base of some 45,000 people. In addition we offer weekly outreach clinics in Cochrane,Iroquois Falls and Black River Matheson. These clinics are necessary for many senior citizens and unemployed who have difficulty coming into Timmins for help with EI, pension and passport issues.

 

37.    Over the last number of years, the workload across the region has continued to increase while our federal budget has continued to decrease. Much of the increased workload is coming in the area of immigration. With no federal immigration services anywhere north of Highway 401, my office has become the main point of contact for families and employers at a time of a major economic boom.

 

38.   Timmins, Cochrane, Matheson, Matachewan and Kirkland Lake region are all enjoying a major mining boom. The new Detour Gold Mine will be the largest gold mine in North America. Kirkland Lake has seen a major expansion at Kirkland Gold as well as a major new mine at Matachewan. The losses that we saw five and six years ago in the forestry sector have been more than offset by the spike in mining and trades-related activity.

 

39.    In Timmins region, numerous gold mines are adding staff or coming on stream. Housing starts are up and many new families are looking to move into the region from various parts of the world.

 

40.    The Kirkland Lake office is equally busy even though it is served by just one staff member. In addition to the large caseload in the Kirkland area she services Timiskaming with monthly smaller satellite clinics in Larder Lake, Virginiatown,ElkLake, Matachewan, Englehart and Earlton. This outreach has ensured good coverage to the rural communities of Timiskaming.

 

41.    Between these two offices we offer regular fly-in clinics in communities such as MartenFalls, Moose Factory, Moosonee, Kashechewan,FortAlbany,Attawapiskat  and Peawanuck. Government agencies rarely visit these communities and so my staff end up taking on the most basic government tasks such as filling out health cards for children. In addition to these basic constituency services, we have faced numerous housing, health, education and infrastructure crisis. In the last 8 years there have been over a dozen states of emergency declared in communities along the James Bay coast. We have helped coordinate food and clothing supplies into affected communities. We have often been on the front lines of serious health and infrastructure crisis.

 

42.    I know it is not the mandate of the Boundary Commission to concern themselves with MP staffing or budgets. However, the Boundary Commission needs to reflect on the impact of proposing that an additional six communities, some as much as 300 kilometres from our existing office be added to the riding. Each of these communities has their their own challenges and histories. As no other ridings, other than Nickel Belt-Timiskaming are being asked to assume such dramatic new responsibilities, I would argues that this recommendation creates an unnecessary imbalance and will leave one part of the Province at a distinct disadvantage from its neighbouring ridings.

 

           

 

SOLUTIONS

 

43.    The riding redistribution for Ontario has been undertaken to supply urban Southern Ontario with 15 new seats. With this goal in mind, there should be as little as possible impact to the communities of the north who are facing the status quo.

 

44.    I support the solution being offered by the New Democratic MPs to balance out the population and riding issues in the Sudbury, Nickel Belt and Algoma region to ensure a balance of population and community interests. These new maps will provide comparable population sizes to the present riding of Timmins-JamesBay.

 

45.    This balance is based on the recognition that we must maintain the status quo on the upper part of Highway 11. As well, rural Temiskaming must be kept within Timmins-James Bay.

 

46.    My region could take on service of Foleyet because many of those families traditionally come into Timmins for medical, shopping and other needs.

 

 

47.    I would be pleased to follow up with the Boundary Commission if there are any further questions or concerns.