Panel at odds over ridings

A government-appointed study group is recommending four new provincial ridings in Alberta, but not all the panellists agree.

EDMONTON — A government-appointed study group is recommending four new provincial ridings in Alberta, but not all the panellists agree.

The Electoral Boundaries Commission has issued a report recommending two new ridings in Calgary, and one more seat in both Edmonton and Fort McMurray.

“This we feel would ensure effective representation across the province,” said retired judge Ernie Walter, the panel chairman. “We encourage people to review the report and give us their feedback.”

Walter says a second series of public hearings will be held in April to review comments on the interim report.

The panel wants to divide Alberta into 87 ridings, with a total of 44 seats in Edmonton and Calgary and 43 in the rest of Alberta.

But a former journalist on the five-member panel disagrees and says both Edmonton and Calgary should get two new ridings.

Allyson Jeffs’ minority position argues that Edmonton’s population growth justifies the city having two more seats.

Jeffs says the boundaries for the rest of rural Alberta should be redrawn so that the total number of rural seats remains at 42.

“This is essentially a discussion document,” Jeffs said Wednesday at a news conference to release the interim report.

“What happens between now and the final report will really depend on the kind of feedback we get.”

Alberta’s Liberal Opposition says there’s really no need to increase the number of ridings in the province, especially during a recession.

“We’re in a time of fiscal restraint,” said Liberal Kent Hehr. “This is a Tory idea that I think is a silly one given the nature of Alberta’s coffers.”

“We can do a good job as MLAs without adding four more seats.”

Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason says the commission is heading in the right direction.

But he urged the panel to set a goal of 10 per cent population variance between ridings, rather than the allowed 25 per cent variance.

The new ridings are expected to be in place in time for the next Alberta election, which Premier Ed Stelmach has promised will be held in early 2012.

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