Conservatives finger Countney for Sask. boundary mess

A Conservative MP says an independent member of the Saskatchewan boundaries commission denigrated the process of redrawing the electoral map and should have recused himself from the process.

OTTAWA — A Conservative MP says an independent member of the Saskatchewan boundaries commission denigrated the process of redrawing the electoral map and should have recused himself from the process.

Maurice Vellacott echoed the views of some other MPs from the province who feel at least two of the three commissioners came to the job with their minds already made up.

The independent commission has proposed exclusively urban ridings, as opposed to the existing hybrids that include suburban and rural communities.

A Commons committee is hearing from witnesses on the changes and the Conservatives oppose the new map.

They argue it awkwardly orphans some suburban areas and makes some ridings unwieldy.

Vellacott specifically criticized political scientist and boundaries expert John Courtney, a commission member appointed by Andrew Scheer, the Speaker of the House and himself a Saskatchewan MP.

Vellacott said Courtney had revealed in conversations early in the process that he favoured creating some urban-only ridings.

“To me, that does a great disservice, a great disrespect that denigrates the process, when one of the commissioners, a reputable, respected gentleman otherwise, had actually a mindset and a pre-determination of having urban boundaries, and then trying to collect the evidence to justify that thereafter,” said Vellacott.

“To me that is a disservice, he probably should have recused himself at the point when he realized he had this set, determined mindset at the get-go.”

Courtney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ron Mills, the Saskatchewan justice who is commission chairman, told The Canadian Press earlier this month that he and his colleagues had taken into account a wide variety of information and input when they wrote their report.

Commissioner David Marit, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, wrote a dissenting report.

None of the Conservative caucus made submissions to the commission when it was drafting its first report for discussion last spring. Some MPs told The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity that Conservative party headquarters had made the mistake of telling them to hold off on writing to the commission.

But not all Tories are urging the commission’s work be scrapped. MPs Brad Trost and Kelly Block offered the Commons committee examples of where the map could be tweaked slightly, so that certain communities could remain part of ridings where they had more common interest.

Colleague Tom Lukiwski explained that some citizens had purchased land just outside of Saskatoon to build bigger homes, but still identified with the city — and not with Moose Jaw, which would now be the centre of their new riding.

Lukiwski also took a markedly different tone than some of his colleagues on the commission itself.

“I have the utmost respect for the commissioners,” he said.

“While I disagree with some of their findings, I have no doubt that they put their presentations forward in the best interest of Saskatchewan residents.”

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