Part I Initial Report to the House of Commons (December 19, 2012) – Saskatchewan – Public Hearings

Public Hearings

The Commission was required by the Act to hold sittings to hear representations by interested persons with respect to the proposed electoral districts. For this purpose, the Commission held public hearings at the following places:

Regina Ramada Hotel and Convention Centre Monday, September 17, 2012
Swift Current Credit Union iPlex Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Weyburn Royal Canadian Legion Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Fort Qu'Appelle Treaty Four Governance Centre Thursday, September 20, 2012
Regina Ramada Hotel and Convention Centre Friday, September 21, 2012
Regina Ramada Hotel and Convention Centre Saturday, September 22, 2012
Saskatoon Radisson Hotel Monday, October 1, 2012
North Battleford Don Ross Centre Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Prince Albert Carlton Comprehensive High School Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Tisdale RECplex Thursday, October 4, 2012
Saskatoon Radisson Hotel Friday, October 5, 2012
Saskatoon Radisson Hotel Saturday, October 6, 2012

The experience of the two previous commissions suggested that this Commission could expect fewer than 40 people to appear before it. The commissioners were pleasantly surprised when 230 people expressed a desire to appear at the public hearings. To accommodate this interest, four extra days and extended hours were set for Regina and Saskatoon.

Presentations were made by the following groups of people: members of Parliament; representatives of rural municipalities, small towns and villages; individual city councillors; defeated federal candidates; and a cross-section of the general public. The city councils of Saskatoon and Regina did not take a position in support of or in opposition to the proposal. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities took an official position in opposition to dedicated urban ridings for Saskatoon and Regina. The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association took an official position in support of dedicated urban ridings for Saskatoon and Regina.

A majority of those who appeared at the public hearings opposed the proposal. Their principal focus was on maintaining rural-urban hybrid districts and on speaking against the creation of exclusively urban ridings for Saskatoon and Regina. A significant minority of those appearing at the public hearings supported the Commission's proposal.

The Commission received nearly 3,000 other communications in various forms. A large number of individual e-mails and letters were received. A small number of group presentations and a considerable number of identical postcards and petitions were filed. Clearly, a large number of contacts were inspired by the encouragement of members of Parliament opposed to the abolition of rural-urban hybrid districts. Representatives of political parties whose candidates had not been elected supported the proposal, presumably in the belief that the changes would enhance their political fortunes in upcoming elections.

A few presenters suggested that the changes contained in the proposal would convey to the public the impression that the purpose of the changes was to provide an advantage to a particular person or party in the next election. Unfortunately, some people view any activity that might impact on the election of their candidate or party as good or bad insofar as it supports or hinders the election of that candidate or party. They see such decisions through a political lens.

The Commission stressed the following point on several occasions throughout the public hearings: setting the electoral district boundaries to promote the election of a particular person or political party was not a criterion that the Commission was prepared to consider or condone. The Commission ignored contacts made for the purpose of attempting to gain political advantage for any party.

The Commission's concern is with the democratic process and, to that end, its deliberations and decisions are informed by the law under which the process is to be conducted. The Commission understands that, regardless of its reasoning and intention, there will be some who will view its decisions in terms of political winners and losers. The Commission has little doubt, however, that the general public accepts the new electoral districts as a genuine effort to comply with the principles of the Act and to ensure respect for the democratic process.

Opposition to the proposal was centered on the following six basic themes:

1. By moving to solely urban ridings from blended rural-urban ridings, the cities of Saskatoon and Regina would each lose a member of Parliament.

The Commission did not accept this claim. The fact is that neither Regina nor Saskatoon currently has exclusive urban representation.

The 2011 populations of the cities of Saskatoon and Regina were 222,189 and 193,100, respectively. When those populations are divided by the per-district quota of 73,813, which constitutes the basis for the allocation of Saskatchewan's 14 districts, the mathematics is very clear. The city of Saskatoon is entitled to three strictly urban seats, and the city of Regina to 2.5 seats. The population of the one urban-rural hybrid seat of Regina—Qu'Appelle (as revised in this report) is 72,891, of which approximately one half resides within the city and one half within the rural portion of the district.

It should be noted that, in the proposal, the Regina—Qu'Appelle electoral district was reconfigured and enlarged slightly to encompass the boundaries of additional First Nations reserves. This was done so that the specific community of interest of First Nations people – which was a feature of both the urban and rural segments of the existing constituency – was ensured.

2. Saskatchewan is too small a province for its representation to be fragmented between urban and rural communities. Members of Parliament should essentially represent the diversified interests of the entire province to create provincial unity.

The Commission did not accept this argument. The Act recognizes that geographic areas containing a certain number of people sharing communities of identity and interest should have a representative speaking to their concerns. Residents of the province are entitled to have a member of Parliament who speaks to and focuses on the issues of central importance to them. The Commission is convinced that the time has arrived to accept the distinctive urban character of the province's two major cities.

The Commission was told repeatedly that city residents wanted their member of Parliament to focus on issues and on solutions to those issues that were relevant to them. City dwellers did not want their representation watered down by their member of Parliament compromising on a position to satisfy the concerns of the rural population.

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association captured the essence of this point in its submission:

Saskatchewan's two largest cities comprise 40% of the province's total population and are both growing at [a] record pace. . . . This population influx, which creates unique challenges for Saskatoon and Regina, is not experienced elsewhere in Saskatchewan. As large urban centres with dense populations, both cities face numerous social issues unique to cities. These issues include access to affordable housing, homelessness, addressing an urban [A]boriginal population, meet[ing] the needs of new immigrants, and complex policing matters involving organized crime and gangs. The cities are also concerned with mass transit, finding solutions to air pollution as a result of increased traffic and industry, funding of major infrastructure projects relating to multi-million dollar wastewater and water treatment facilities, solid waste landfills, road networks, and large-scale recreational and cultural facilities. Although economic linkages exist between rural and urban populations, the interests of rural areas and smaller towns and villages are significantly different [from those of] large urban centres.

3. The creation of solely urban ridings in Saskatoon and Regina will drive a wedge between urban and rural residents.

The Commission did not accept this argument. It presupposes that the interests of rural and city dwellers are currently identical and that, if left alone, the boundaries will continue to reflect those shared interests. This approach conforms to a reality some people wish to see, not to the way things are. Those making this argument implicitly recognize that the interests of rural and city dwellers are not the same, and that if the cities get their own representatives, the compromise necessitated by a representative of rural-urban interests will be lost. Electoral boundaries that recognize diverse urban-rural concerns do not drive a wedge between communities. Rather they simply acknowledge the differences that do exist.

4. The creation of urban ridings in Saskatoon and Regina will necessitate large, unmanageable rural ridings whose geographic size will result in the loss of effective representation.

The Commission did not accept this argument. The realignment of the former blended ridings naturally results in the rural portion of those ridings becoming geographically larger than they were before the proposal. Even so, these new rural ridings are still smaller than the four largest ridings already in existence (Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, Cypress Hills—Grasslands, Souris—Moose Mountain and Yorkton—Melville). None of the members of Parliament serving those four districts communicated to the Commission that they were unable to adequately serve the needs of their constituents. The Commission therefore expects no loss of effective representation for the residents of the new, geographically mid-size districts.

The Commission is also mindful that the method of communication between members of Parliament and their constituents, and between the constituents themselves, is rapidly evolving. The Internet, social media and changing methods of electronic communication have made personal contact easier, more frequent and more cost effective. This trend will not reverse itself.

5. Saskatchewan should not follow the lead of other provinces in the creation of solely urban ridings as the realities of those much larger urban centres are different from the realities of Saskatoon and Regina.

The Commission accepts this argument. A number of people supporting the proposal suggested that Saskatchewan should have urban ridings to get in step with the rest of the provinces, thereby ensuring a measure of consistency among electoral districts across Canada. The Commission did not agree with this approach. Each province has its own commission recognizing its uniqueness. Every province has a separate experience of settlement and economic and social development. Each has its own priorities and political character. The Commission ignored the approach that other provinces have taken to electoral redistribution and focused on the reality that is Saskatchewan today.

6. Currently, voter apathy is at an all-time high. The Commission will compound this problem if it makes significant changes to the electoral boundaries.

The Commission did not accept this argument. Assuming that voter apathy is a significant problem, the Commission fails to see how maintaining the status quo will alleviate that problem. The commissioners heard from young urban dwellers – among them immigrants, refugees, Aboriginal people, Francophones and gay people – who felt disenfranchised by having to share their member of Parliament with others who did not understand their current, largely urban, concerns. Many of these urban dwellers also expressed a lack of knowledge of rural concerns. It is not the role of the Commission to set boundaries encompassing people whose community of interest is weak in an attempt to force them to become more knowledgeable about the situation of others.

Those in favour of the proposal for solely urban ridings in Regina and Saskatoon acknowledged that there were similarities in the issues facing both urban and rural dwellers, but argued that the nature of those issues was significantly different. For example, everyone is concerned about crime; however, gang violence, drug addiction, prostitution and incarceration of criminals are issues that take on a far different focus and immediacy in Saskatoon and Regina than they do in Rosetown or Humboldt.

The Commission heard a recurring theme in submissions from a significant number of people who favoured the proposal, which was the need for the member of Parliament to focus on their concerns and to emphasize solutions acceptable to people living in the cities. As stated by one presenter, "I would like to take this opportunity to say that as an urban resident ... I am in full support of the boundary changes. I feel that the proposed changes would ensure that my own voice, as well as the voices of the vast majority of other urban voters, are actually heard."

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