In its initial report this summer, the Saskatchewan federal electoral boundaries commission recommended establishing three exclusively urban ridings in Saskatoon and two urban and one blended urban-rural ridings in Regina. In public hearings that were held this fall, some people argued that this was a long overdue change that brought Saskatchewan into step with every other province in Canada where urban and rural interests were sufficiently different that both populations were best represented in Parliament by MPs with strong roots in those “communities of interest”. Others argued, though, that the unique nature of Saskatchewan and the strong ties (personal, social, economic) that allegedly exist between urban and rural areas justified the continued use of the blended urban and rural ridings that have been in place since 1968.
Once the hearings were complete, the commission withdrew to draft its final report which was submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer on Dec. 19. In 2002, the electoral boundaries commission had made a similar recommendation that exclusively urban ridings be created in Saskatoon and Regina. Following public hearings, though, the report that it submitted to the CEO reverted back to the old model. This was done, it seems, because in 2002 the bulk of the presenters at the public hearings argued that the status quo of blended ridings was preferable and that argument carried the day.
In Saskatchewan in particular the political stakes are especially high. With several federal elections having been held under the old ridings where seat distribution did not reflect the popular vote (like the Conservatives winning 13 of 14 seats in the 2011 election with 56 per cent of the vote, while the NDP, with 33 per cent of the vote, didn’t win a single seat) people who felt strongly that the old map was flawed and that the new map needed to be adopted made their voices heard so the 2012 hearings were much more balanced than in 2002.
The result, it seems, is that the commission’s proposal to create exclusively urban ridings in Regina and Saskatoon has been submitted to the CEO. The actual boundary map, however, won’t be made public until Parliament resumes sitting at the end of January. In a short telephone conversation today, the commission secretary Illa Knudsen said it would likely be the latter part of February before that happened.
And that’s still not the end of it. As I observed in a news top six in our Jan. 10 print issue there are still several steps that must be taken at the Parliamentary level before the final map is approved. When public hearings were held this fall, sitting Saskatchewan MPs were free to make presentations to the commission. And most did. But once the report is tabled in Parliament MPs are permitted to file objections to what the commission is proposing. If 10 MPs concur, the objection is examined by a parliamentary committee. This will be done in March.
Once the parliamentary committee does its work, the report is returned to the provincial commission for further consideration. The commission doesn’t appear to be bound by any objections or recommendations that the parliamentary committee might make, but it can decide to make further modifications to the boundaries if it chooses. The deadline for the commission to submit its FINAL final report to the Speaker of the House is June 2013. The Chief Electoral Officer will then draft a “representation order” describing the new electoral map and in September it will be proclaimed by the Governor in Council. Once that’s done, the new boundaries will come into effect for the next general election which is scheduled for October 2015.
So while the idea of exclusively urban ridings in Saskatchewan is further along than it was in 2002 it’s still not a done deal.