Part I – Initial Report to the House of Commons (December 6, 2012) – New Brunswick – Introduction

1. Introduction

Formation and Composition of the Commission

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of New Brunswick was established in February 2012, pursuant to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-3 (“the Act”).

The Commission is composed of Mr. Justice Alexandre Deschênes as Chairperson, as well as Mr. Justice Thomas Riordon and Dr. Patrick Malcolmson as members. Pursuant to the provisions of the Act, the Chairperson is appointed by the Chief Justice of New Brunswick while the other two commissioners are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Mandate and Considerations

The Commission is legally required to readjust the boundaries of the 10 electoral districts in New Brunswick, using the 2011 decennial census.

The 2011 Census established New Brunswick’s population at 751,171. Under the rules prescribed by the Act, the provincial electoral quota must be calculated by dividing the provincial population by the number of members of Parliament from New Brunswick, namely 10. The provincial electoral quota therefore stands at 75,117. That number is significant, as the Act provides that each electoral district shall have a population as “close as reasonably possible” to the provincial electoral quota (see s. 15(1)(a) of the Act).

However, this important rule is tempered by other rules that allow the Commission to depart from the quota up to a variance of ±25%. Moreover, the Act allows variance beyond ±25% “in circumstances viewed by the commission as being extraordinary” (s. 15(2)). The Commission did not identify any extraordinary circumstances that would allow for the drawing of any electoral district with a variance of more than 25% from the electoral quota.

The rules clearly provide for a departure from the electoral quota up to ±25% in any case where the Commission considers it necessary or desirable in order to respect the community of interest or community of identity in an electoral district, or its historical pattern; or to maintain a manageable geographic size for a sparsely populated or rural region of the province (see s. 15(1)(b) of the Act).

Although the Commission considers voter parity as a factor of considerable importance in drawing electoral boundaries, the ultimate or primary goal being pursued by the Commission is “effective representation”, as held by the Supreme Court of Canada in Reference re Provincial Electoral Boundaries (Sask.), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 158 (Carter).

Public Input on the Commission’s Proposal

In accordance with the Act, the Commission published its proposal as a supplement to Part I of the Canada Gazette on July 21, 2012.

To encourage public input before the release of its proposal, the Commission had posted a notice on its website, discussing the nature of the changes that could be made to electoral districts (also referred to as “ridings”), and sent a copy of that notice to various organizations, such as the English and French associations of municipalities representing large segments of the population of New Brunswick. As a result, the Commission did receive some correspondence from the public before the drafting and release of its proposal.

The proposal was published by way of an eight-page insert in the three daily New Brunswick newspapers in July 2012. The insert provided a detailed map outlining the proposed boundaries of New Brunswick’s 10 electoral districts, the Commission’s coordinates and the times and places of the public hearings to be held in September 2012.

The publication in the daily newspapers was followed immediately by the publication of the Commission’s coordinates and scheduled public hearings through a quarter-page advertisement in more than 20 other weekly local newspapers throughout the province.

The 11 public hearings were held, as scheduled, between September 10 and 27 across New Brunswick. Simultaneous translation from one official language to the other was provided at all public hearings; all proceedings were recorded.

The rules adopted and published by the Commission imposed an obligation upon individuals or representatives of interested groups to file a notice of intention to appear before the Commission. However, the Act (subsection 19(6)) provides that “a commission may hear the representation without the notice having been given if the commission considers it to be in the public interest to do so.” Although no notice was received from individuals or representatives of interested groups wishing to appear before the Commission for the electoral district of Saint John, the Commission opted not to cancel the scheduled hearing. As it turned out, two individuals appeared as observers and interested citizens of the Saint John area, and both of them accepted the Commission’s invitation to make representations expressing disapproval of certain positions adopted by the Commission. The Commission felt it was in the public interest that such views be aired in public.

In total, the Commission heard some 70 presenters across the province. Numerous individuals and interested groups who did not wish to make oral presentations sent electronic messages expressing their views and concerns about our proposal. The Commission has acknowledged each communication and has given each due consideration.

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