As the lone rural wolf commenting on Dave’s blog, I was asked to present a guest feature for him on the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission. I have mixed feelings on the issue as a whole. I have written before about the significant electoral reforms that are needed in the Alberta and Canadian system beyond gerrymandering, and I’m certainly more passionate about those issues. However, as these types of changes are outside of the purview of the Boundaries Commission it would be inappropriate to address them here.
To be clear from the outset, I am not advocating for the creation of more rural electoral districts – I’m not so naive as to see the disenfranchisement Edmonton and Calgary voters feel by only having half of the seats (though this rises to roughly 65% when you include other urban areas such as Airdrie, Fort McMurray, Lethbridge, Red Deer etc), however, I do emphatically support effective representation which may result in some electoral divisions, particularly in the north, being given “special consideration” as they will be well below the 25% population threshold.
Chair Walter of the Commission introduces every public hearing with the same disclaimer—that the Commission is guided by Canadian Law which requires electoral districts to give Albertans the right to effective representation. Effective representation is the crux of the argument for constituencies in rural and remote areas. Extremely large electoral divisions are neither effective, nor efficient. Rural and remote areas face challenges of accessibility that frankly, those in the Edmonton/Calgary corridor do not. Communications issues plague much of the province and there are areas where efficient internet is minimal or non-existent. The closure of the City Centre Airport (a closure I still support and will NOT enter into debate here for) left many northern airports on life support, making air travel unfeasible. That leaves driving, and all the budget in the world cannot make up for the human-time it takes to travel massive constituencies. Until one has lived in an Alberta community outside of the big urbans, they cannot fairly assess what type of political representation is effective.
It is my assertion that those who focus on the rural electoral divisions are kind of missing the point. The Commission is charged with providing effective representation. Surely an MLA representing well above the 25% population variance is just as ineffective as an MLA who spends the majority of her or his time travelling to and around their constituency. That should be the focus of Edmonton and Calgary voters… Don’t disenfranchise the rural electorate because the system sucks – fight for what the system is supposed to do for you: Effective Representation.
Born and raised in Edmonton, Shannon recently moved to northern Alberta. She received her BA in Political Science from the UofA in 2005 and is currently working in local government. She is an avid follower of various political blogs and a fervent supporter of electoral reform for all levels of government in Canada.