Tag Archives: Electoral Boundaries Commission Act

Rural Alberta Advantage

AAMDC wants a Rural Alberta Electoral Advantage

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties approved a resolution opposing the recommendations included in the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission this week at their annual meeting in Edmonton. The organization representing municipal districts and counties opposes the dissolution of three rural districts and is calling for an amendment to Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

A press release issued by the AAMDC states the organization has no issue with the creation of new urban seats to support the significant growth in the urban centres, but feels strongly these seats should not be created at the expense of rural Alberta.

“To suggest that effective representation will be achieved by decreasing the number of long-standing rural seats will disservice rural Alberta greatly,” AAMDC president Al Kemmere said in the news release. “Rural communities are an intrinsic part of Alberta and as such, deserve to have a voice in our democratic institutions.”

Section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act limits the number of districts represented in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly to 87. Presumably, the AAMDC would like to see an increase to the total number of MLAs in order to offset the loss of rural representation in the Assembly.

In 2010, then-Justice Minister Alison Redford introduced Bill 28: Electoral Division Act, which increased the total number of electoral districts represented in the Legislature from 83 to 87. It was widely believed that this increase was an attempt to quell political opposition to any decrease in rural representation by the large caucus of rural Progressive Conservative MLAs.

The Commission’s final report recommends the creation of three new urban districts to reflect significant population growth in urban municipalities such as Airdrie, Calgary, Chestermere, Cochrane, Edmonton and Spruce Grove. The report’s recommendations also reflect the considerable growth of suburban and acreage communities in counties surrounding these urban areas.

While most areas of the province have experienced some level of population growth since the last time electoral boundaries were redrawn in 2011, some rural areas east of Red Deer and in east central Alberta have experience a decline in population.

The elimination of rural districts will result in geographically larger rural districts. This will pose increased challenges to MLAs who will need to represent more sprawling and geographically diverse constituencies, but the elimination of rural districts is inevitable unless their populations increase at a rate larger than the growing urban areas.

Rural Alberta has experienced a significant decline in electoral representation over the past fifty years, partly due to population growth in the urban centres but mostly due to the gradual elimination of intentional political gerrymandering of electoral districts, which created a lopsided over-representation of rural MLAs in the Assembly.

In the 1967 election, rural Albertans were 31 percent of the population but rural areas represented 44 of 63 electoral districts in the province. That rural overrepresentation declined only slightly in the 1971 election, when rural Albertans represented 27 percent of the population and 42 of 75 electoral districts.

The blatant overrepresentation of rural areas over the province’s growing urban areas continued under the old PC government until at least the mid-1990s. Rural gerrymandering was once a hallmark of Alberta’s political history, but recent Electoral Boundary Commissions worked to equalize representation of rural and urban areas in the Assembly.

Politics and Rural Representation

When the Commission’s final report is introduced for debate in the Assembly, which could happen in the coming weeks, we can expect the United Conservative Party caucus to oppose many of the recommended changes. While there are legitimate concerns with some of the boundary changes impacting rural areas, the UCP will use the report’s recommendations to attack the urban-based New Democratic Party, which is already unpopular in rural Alberta.

Unlike the PC caucus in 2010 and the UCP caucus in 2017, the governing NDP caucus is largely composed of MLAs representing urban districts in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Lethbridge. The relatively small rural NDP caucus, which includes Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson, Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Economic Development Associate Minister Jessica Littlewood, does not have the numerical leverage over their colleagues that rural caucuses have had in the past.

The decreasing influence of rural MLAs in Alberta governments since 2012, when the Wildrose Party swept into opposition, led the AAMDC to find itself sitting on the outside of political power for the first time in decades.

For many years, the AAMDC was known in political circles as the PC Party’s “farm team,” because many rural politicians had used the organization as a springboard in attempts to win PC candidate nominations (including current president Al Kemmere and former county reeves Jack Hayden, Ray Danyluk and Ed Stelmach).

The PCs under Redford’s leadership struggled to communicate rural interests in government and it is unclear if the current NDP government even has much of a rural agenda.

This week’s announcement from Shaye Anderson that the government will provide a tax credit for uncollectible education property taxes on defunct oil and gas properties, known as orphan wells, should be popular among rural municipal leaders. But previous transgressions, like the fumbled passage of Bill 6 and the phase-out of coal-fired power plants early in the NDP’s term in government created significant resentment in rural areas. These issues will pose a major challenge for NDP MLAs seeking re-election in rural districts in the 2019 election.

Neighbourhood population change in Edmonton from 2014 to 2016 (image from blog.mastermaq.ca)

Municipal Census a snapshot of how Edmonton’s Electoral Boundaries will be redrawn

The City of Edmonton municipal census released yesterday could give some indication into how provincial electoral boundaries in the city will be redrawn for the next election.

Current electoral boundaries in Edmonton, drawn in 2010, with the results of the 2015 election.

Current electoral boundaries in Edmonton, drawn in 2010, with the results of the 2015 election.

An Electoral Boundaries Commission will be appointed by October 31, 2016 and will propose changes to Alberta’s provincial constituency boundaries to reflect population changes and shifts since the last time the boundaries were redrawn in 2010.

Bill 7: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley in April 2016 adjusted the timelines for the commission and clarified the commissioners authority to consider municipal population information, such as a municipal census.

Overall, Edmonton’s population has increased by 117,008 since the 2009 Census and Alberta’s population has grown by more than 500,000 since our provincial electoral boundaries were last redrawn in 2010.

With the municipal census showing Edmonton is becoming more suburban, we should expect the boundary commission will redraw the city’s provincial electoral districts to reflect this growth in suburban neighbourhoods.

Big population growth means it’s time to redraw Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries

Alberta’s population has grown by 517,365 since the last time our provincial electoral boundaries were redrawn to reflect population growth. According to population estimates released on the provincial government’s Open Data portal this week, Alberta’s population reached 4,196,457 in 2015, up from population estimates of 3,679,092 in 2009, the last time boundaries were redistributed.

Over this six year period, Alberta’s two largest cities saw a huge population spike, with Edmonton growing from a population of 817,867 in 2009 to 950,421 in 2015 and Calgary from 1,107,192 to 1,293,023. Sixty-one percent of the province’s population growth is estimated to have moved to Calgary and Edmonton during this time.

According to these estimates, the combined population of Calgary and Edmonton represents 53 percent of Alberta’s population.

Population Growth in Calgary

While most of the province’s growth is estimated to have been in the two big cities, Alberta’s medium-sized municipalities have also grown. According to the population estimates, Strathcona County grew from 92,299 in 2009 to 107,104 in 2015, Airdrie grew from 38,704 in 2009 to 50,257 in 2015, St. Albert grew from 62,563 in 2009 to 71,096 in 2015, and Wood Buffalo grew from 63,376 in 2009 to 77,804 in 2015.

Some smaller rural communities, like Hanna, Oyen, Starland County, Stettler County, Swan Hills, and the town and county of Provost, actually saw a decline in the population since the electoral boundaries were last redrawn, according to the estimates.

Population Growth in Edmonton

In order to reflect this significant population shift, the Government of Alberta should take action to ensure the electoral boundaries are redrawn before the next provincial election, which is scheduled to be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. Redrawing the province’s electoral boundaries to reflect population growth will ensure that Albertans receive more effective representation in the Legislative Assembly after the next election.

The 2009/2010 Electoral Boundary Commission estimated that the average population of Alberta’s 87 electoral districts was 40,880. Using the same formula, the average population according to 2015 population estimates would be 48,235, which is very close to 51,100 maximum allowable population in each electoral district (25 percent above the 2009 average).

As I wrote in Sept. 2015, Section 5 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act states that a commission be appointed following every second election and a minimum of eight years and maximum of ten years since the previous commission. Two elections have been held since the last commission was appointed only seven years ago. This timeline was skewed when Progressive Conservative leader Jim Prentice called an election one year earlier than was set in Alberta’s fixed election date law.

According to a statement made by Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler on Sept. 24, 2015, the currently existing legal timeline would not give the commission and Elections Alberta staff enough time to prepare for the 2019 election. Mr. Resler told an MLA committee that he would recommend the government introduce an amendment to the Act to shorten the timeline so a commission can be appointed before the eight year minimum period.

The government should amend the timeline to ensure the electoral boundaries are redrawn before the next provincial election. The government should also make changes other sections of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act that would create a more fair process of drawing electoral districts and remove partisan appointments to the commission (I wrote about some of the changes that should be made in an earlier post).


The final report from the 2009/2010 Electoral Boundaries Commission included a handful of recommendations for future commissions:

  • The Legislative Assembly needs to seriously consider how urban and rural perspectives will be addressed in the future.
  • The Legislative Assembly should consider reassessing the resources allocated for constituency offices.
  • Future commissions should be appointed early in the calendar year.
  • The Legislative Assembly may wish to consider adopting a protocol for the naming of electoral divisions for the guidance of future commissions.

NDP should amend more than just timelines for Alberta’s next electoral map

Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler spoke to the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices on September 24, 2015 about legislated timelines that require an Electoral Boundaries Commission be appointed to redraw the provincial electoral districts.

Because the 2015 provincial election was called one year earlier than Alberta’s (meaningless) fixed election date calls for the timelines now present a difficult challenge for Elections Alberta.

Section 5 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act states that a commission be appointed following every second election and a minimum of eight years and maximum of ten years since the previous commission. Two elections have been held since the last commission was appointed only six years ago.

The current legislative timeline, according to Mr. Resler, would not give the commission and Elections Alberta staff enough time to prepare for the next election, scheduled to be held in early 2019.

Mr. Resler told the committee that he is recommending the government introduce an amendment to the Act to shorten the timeline so a commission can be appointed before the eight year minimum period.

He told the MLA committee that he is proposing the government amend the law to allow the next commission be appointed by September 2016 in order to have a final report prepared for approval by the Legislative Assembly in the fall of 2017. This timeline would allow Elections Alberta enough time to prepare the new electoral districts for the 2019 provincial election.

If and when Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley introduces amendments to the timeline, the government should also change other sections in the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act that would create a more fair process of drawing electoral districts.

Under the current law, the commission is comprised of two appointees nominated by the Premier and two appointees nominated by the Leader of the Official Opposition, and a “neutral” chairperson.

Ms. Ganley should recommend that the commission instead be made up of non-partisan judicial appointees made by the Speaker of the Assembly, similar to the commissions appointed to draw the federal electoral boundaries.

The government should also amend the section of the Act that lays out guidelines for the commission to redraw Alberta’s electoral districts.

Section 15 of the Act allows for the population of a proposed electoral division to be 25 percent above or 25 percent below the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions.

While many other provinces allow for a 25 percent variation, some provinces allow smaller deviations. Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba’s southern districts follow a general rule for deviation of up to 10 percent. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick allow for a 5 percent general deviation.

The government could easily amend the law to allow the population of each of the new electoral divisions to be closer to the provincial average, perhaps within plus or minus 10 percent or 5 percent deviation.

This Act also allows the commission to recommend up to 4 large electoral divisions with a population that is as much as 50 percent below the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions.

These conditions introduced in 1990 are largely arbitrary, allowing the 50 percent deviation for constituencies which exceed 20,000 square kilometres, are in excess of 150 kilometres away from the Legislative Assembly Building, include no town larger than 8,000 people (the original bill required no town larger than 4,000 people), include an Indian reserve or Métis settlement and share a border with the provincial boundary.

The government could reduce the 50 percent deviation to 25 percent and direct increased funding for MLAs representing large electoral districts for the cost of multiple constituency offices and an increased travel/outreach budget. In 2015, the technology exists to aid MLAs to communicate, converse, and represent Albertans in large electoral districts.

Two rural constituencies currently fall under the 50 percent exception: Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley with 16,392 voters and Lesser Slave Lake with 19,062 voters. Other rural constituencies that have a notable lower than average population of voters include Peace River with 20,464, Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills with 23,479 voters and Cardston-Taber-Warner with 23,918 voters.

The average voting population of a constituency in Calgary and Edmonton is more than 33,000 voters. Some urban constituencies, like Calgary-South East with 46,871 voters and Edmonton-South West with 41,230 voters, have grown considerably since the last redistribution.

Our provincial population has grown considerably since the last commission was appointed to redraw Alberta’s electoral boundaries in 2009. The new government should not just amend the timelines for the next commission, it should amend the Act to empower the commission to draw fair electoral boundaries that will ensure more effective representation and equality of the voting power in Alberta.