Beware of electoral wedges

The first draft of new federal electoral boundaries for Red Deer looks like another Ottawa-version view of a West it does not comprehend. In their eyes, Red Deer is just another country town whose perspectives, economy, lifestyles and political needs are indistinguishable from those of the communities around it. So it would make sense (to Ottawa mandarins, anyway) to divide the city in half, melt it into rural ridings — and presto! — instead of one MP, we can have two!

The first draft of new federal electoral boundaries for Red Deer looks like another Ottawa-version view of a West it does not comprehend.

In their eyes, Red Deer is just another country town whose perspectives, economy, lifestyles and political needs are indistinguishable from those of the communities around it. So it would make sense (to Ottawa mandarins, anyway) to divide the city in half, melt it into rural ridings — and presto! — instead of one MP, we can have two!

Or none at all, depending on how votes could split in an election.

Because of growth in Alberta’s population, our province is to get six more MPs in the next election. Quite possibly, none of them will be from Red Deer.

Northern Alberta will get one more MP, Edmonton and Calgary will get two each, and Southern Alberta will get one more MP. Although Red Deer is in the geographic centre of the country’s highest population growth, and has a riding population already exceeding federal guidelines, their answer to one injustice is a double dose of the same.

With a population of just under 92,000, Alberta’s third largest city more than qualifies to have its own MP. Currently, Earl Dreeshen represents the city, plus a rather wide swath of rural voters. He cites a high degree of co-operation between urban and rural concerns, making it easier for him to prioritize areas of emphasis he feels are most important to this region.

Well and good. Relations between the city and the counties are at an historic high point. A strong local economy — a growing pie — is the best of political lubricants.

But it was not always thus and could well change back in the future. Under the new plan, Red Deer voters — particularly those in the proposed Red Deer Wolf Creek riding — could find their interests in a permanent minority.

And get this: Ross Street is to be the dividing line. Not the river, not the city limits, but the heart of our downtown.

Even with the southside Red Deer communities that will be included into the northern riding, city voters will still be a minority. Assuming vote splitting is more likely in a large city than in smaller centre, or throughout a rural region, there stands a very good chance that urban issues will get zero representation in Ottawa across a wide swatch of the centre of our province.

To argue the other side: it is also likely that a concentrated urban vote in the city portions of these two ridings could outpoll a strong minority view in the rural regions, resulting in zero rural representation from a huge area of our province.

Either way, this hardly looks democratic.

Consider a campaign fought over immigration. This issue primarily affects cities, and you could quite easily imagine a candidate pitting urban concerns (labour supply, funding for support programs) against rural concerns (people potentially taking jobs, fear of crime, loss of social homogeneity).

How about a campaign based on supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs? Can you see candidates setting one part of a riding against another? It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to foresee politicians on the stump with a wedge issue in the press manager’s briefcase — and under the current plan, one side is guaranteed to lose, even before a new Parliament is formed or legislation is drafted.

A large city needs a city MP. Farmers and smaller centres need their own dedicated voice — and vote — in Parliament.

That’s where issues should be settled. Not in a nomination hall, where one group or another can make deals, swing the vote — and deny large portions of our area their right to full representation.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.