Alberta Politics

Justice Myra Bielby to chair Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission [with updates]

The chair of the next Electoral Boundaries Commission was appointed last Thursday with little fanfare. Justice Myra Bielby, a Court of Appeal judge for Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, will chair the commission charged with redrawing Alberta’s provincial electoral boundaries before the next provincial election. She is the first woman to chair this commission in Alberta.

The other four members of the commission will be appointed tomorrow (update: see a list of appointees below) and will include two appointees selected by the government and two by the official opposition.

As I wrote last September, the NDP should have used an opportunity to amend the Boundaries Commission Act to allow for the appointment of a completely non-partisan commission, similar to the commissions appointed in every province to redraw federal electoral boundaries (they did not).

The final reports of previous commissions, which included two appointees chosen by the Progressive Conservative government and two from the then-Liberal Official Opposition tended to end with one or both of the opposition appointees publishing a minority dissenting report (which usually argued that Edmonton was being under-represented in the Legislative Assembly).

With the rhetoric running high from both the NDP and Wildrose this week, I expect we might see a similar situation develop with the appointees to this commission (but with the Wildrose appointees claiming rural areas are under-represented).

While the population of Alberta has grown since the last boundary redistribution in 2010, the population centres in our province have not shifted dramatically. Some boundaries will shift to reflect population changes but I would not expect a massive redistribution to create dozens of new constituencies in urban areas, as has been in the case in the past.

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.

Update: The commission appointees were announced on October 31, 2016:

Nominated by Premier Rachel Notley:

  • Bruce McLeod, Mayor of the Village of Acme and former president of CUPE Alberta.
  • Jean Munn, a lawyer with Caron & Partners LLP in Calgary and NDP candidate in Calgary-Montrose in the 1993 election.

Nominated by Official Opposition leader Brian Jean:

  • Laurie Livingstone, litigation lawyer from Calgary and the former Secretary of the Wildrose Party executive committee.
  • Gwen Day, former councillor in the County of Mountain View and co-owner of the Silver Willow Sporting Club (the location of a June 2016 fundraiser for Wildrose MLA Nathan Cooper).

6 replies on “Justice Myra Bielby to chair Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission [with updates]”

I think it’s so sad that despite the change in government we still haven’t moved to a system that makes every Albertans vote closer in value to one another. There is nothing about the Dunvegan – Notley riding that warrants each of their votes counting for two and a half votes in Airdrie or Edm-Goldbar. No riding should be allowed more than 5% variance in the # of voters from the provincial median, and the special districts, if needed at all, should be capped at 10 or 20% variance. Were such simple rules enacted, the commissions work would be much easier to depoliticize. And then we’d see a proper distribution of urban to rural seats, based on inarguable math.

I agree. The excuse the PCs used to use was the rural ridings had to be smaller in terms of population because otherwise they would be too big in terms of land area for one MLA to cover. That was just an excuse to help them preserve their dynasty. If the Notley government does nothing else I really hope they will equalize the ridings.

Dave has the commission been given any directions in this regard?


“Dave has the commission been given any directions in this regard?”

Not that I am aware. Here is what I wrote in September 2015:

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 rhetoric is a bit overheated, Dave, don’t you think? The last AEBC added four seats, not “dozens.” I don’t remember them ever adding “dozens.” Although, if you’re really a geek, you can find out that 16 were added for the 1909 election and 15 for the 1913 election (by the acknowledged masters of gerrymandering, the Liberals). From the time the PCs were first elected until they lost (almost 44 years), twelve seats were added. As for the WR saying rural Alberta is under-represented, there are some things that are such utter bullshit even they can’t say them without giggling.

Thanks for the comment, Bob. I didn’t claim that dozens were added in the last round of redistribution. I advised readers not to expect dozens, or many at all, to be added this time.

– Dave

I think it is simple minded to think that the issue with the lack of representation in the elections of either Provincial or Federal elections boils down to a lack of representation due to the scope of the provincial constituency boundaries . This shows a lack of both hindsight and foresight . The issue at hand . That being the lack of representation . Is not due to the size and scope of a political map of electoral communities . But directly to the fact that we use a “first past the post” voting system . Whereas in any election to follow vie this path . Votes will always be both lost , and wasted . The issue at hand to give attention to . Is to change the manner of how we vote to a practical , not self serving form , of Proportional Representation . And scrap the system we use now which is a relic of past years of reckless political practice . Which show no regard to what a real democracy is or should be . One way we could help to push to this direction , to push to the federal level of Government . Is to create a system such as this in Alberta . Were votes cast equal seats represented . Such as it is now , 39% of the vote = the majority of the seats , whereas with PR , 39% of the votes , would = 39% of the seats represented , and the other parties would have a representation of seat per vote as well .. changing the voting map without changing the voting pattern . Does not follow a logical path . If you say the plan is to create a greater chance of fair representation . Start with the voting system . Not the voting map .

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