Politicians rally to save northern Ontario riding from chopping block
Municipal leaders are rallying their local councils in a bid to avoid losing any of northern Ontario's 10 seats in the House of Commons.
The concern comes after the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission released its proposal to redraw the ridings in the north.
It proposed abolishing ridings like Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and merging those areas into surrounding ridings.
The town council of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands gathered Tuesday to appeal to the commission to consider its position.
"Last night at the council meeting, we were looking over the proposed electoral boundary commission to eliminate our riding, the loss of one MP is a significant issue for us and we think we're underrepresented at the best of times," said Mayor Al MacNevin.
"Also with the changes that are coming to Manitoulin, we'd be amalgamated with Nickel Belt."
MacNevin said if that happens, his community will suddenly have a lot more completion for federal funding.
"We think this has happened very quickly and we're not getting much time to comment," he said.
"I know a lot of other municipalities are supporting those concerns and are sending the same kind of motion to the community, as well."
It's a similar position for Sudbury Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo, who drafted a similar motion for Greater Sudbury council to voice its displeasure, alongside Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh.
Jakubo said eliminating Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing would weaken the north's voice in Parliament. He said it would fragment and reduce federal representation for Greater Sudbury and area residents.
More serious split
"We're going to see a much more serious split between our communities between the expansion of the Sudbury riding and the redistribution towards the west with the new Manitoulin-Nickel Belt riding," he said.
"We really felt that we need a specific motion for our parts of the city which are most affected in Ward 7 and 9."
It's encouraging to see other northern communities speak with one voice on the matter, Jakubo said.
"I'm not blind to the fact that we may not have the same population in northern Ontario that we have in southern Ontario," he said.
"You can go down to Toronto and you can walk borders of a federal riding in probably 30 minutes. Try to walk from Mattawa all the way to Kenora in 30 minutes. It's absolutely different, the circumstances we're looking at in northern Ontario."
A sticking point for both politicians has been what they see as the lack of consultation.
The commission is only holding one in-person consultation on the subject, later this month in Timmins. That's at least a four and a half hour drive for those on Manitoulin Island, more if you live past Little Current.
CTV News reached out to the commission for an interview and received an email response. When asked about why the lack of consultation on the subject for the region, secretary Paula Puddy said there would also be consultations in Sioux Lookout and Kenora.
Lack of knowledge
MacNevin said that response shows the lack of knowledge of the realities in the north,
"It's almost reflective of what the whole issue is between northern Ontario and southern Ontario and the perception that you could have something in Sioux Lookout or Kenora that could help those living in Greater Sudbury or on Manitoulin Island," he said.
Jakubo said residents in the city are being affected, but are expected to travel to Timmins to have their voice heard.
"There are a number of significantly impacted communities, large communities, one being Greater Sudbury, where we have no in-person forum to voice our opposition or recommendations," he said.
"We just don't think that's fair."
Broadly speaking, Puddy said the lack of population growth meant that the reduction in seats could have been two, but they opted for one. Driving the change is the fact there was only modest population growth – 2.8 per cent -- in the north in the past decade. That compares to 11.2 per cent in the rest of Ontario.
"Given these extreme disparities from population equality and the distinctive challenges of representation in the north, the commission discussed at great length the effect of effective representation and the challenges of balancing the conditions set forth under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act," Puddy said.
She said eight of the proposed nine electoral districts in northern Ontario are of manageable geographic seize and accessible via the well-established roadway network anchored by Highways 11 and 17.
Politicians of all political stripes in the region have drafted a joint letter, calling on the commission to reverse course.
"For us, it's very important that we maintain 10 ridings here in northern Ontario and we're working collectively to offer our feedback to Elections Canada," said Liberal Sudbury MP Viviane Lapointe.
"Some of the new ridings are quite large in territory … it makes it really difficult and you'd have constituents driving hours to see their MPs."
"It doesn't matter to me if seats are added elsewhere," said Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus.
"Democracy is about representation, and I get that, but representation -- democratic representation -- does not include denying people access to their MPs, which is happening in northeastern Ontario ... We will fight like hell."
The commission has also set up virtual hearings Oct. 26 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Oct. 29 from noon to 2:30 p.m.
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