As Greg wrote in last week’s paper, day one of Regina’s federal electoral boundary commission hearings was a little unusual. Thankfully, reason triumphed in the second and third day of presentations.

As we’ve written elsewhere, this year federal voting lines are being redrawn across the country. Saskatchewan’s federally-appointed three person commission was holding hearings last week in Regina to hear citizen’s responses to the proposed voting map released in early August.

The commission’s proposal clearly stated that the current hybrid electoral boundaries around Saskatoon and Regina – unique in Canada – need to be replaced. Instead, the new map would create 5 urban-only ridings; three in Sasakatoon and two in Regina. This arrangement better acknowledges rural to urban demographic shifts and gives Saskatchewan residents representation in the House of Commons.

Because that is what these commissions are all about.

Yet, day one of the hearings had basically nothing to do with democratic representation. The parade of emotional rhetoric from obviously self-interested parties was disheartening.

Not because it actually pertained to much the commission was there to address, but because the same process in 2002 was halted after an “overwhelmingly negative response” to the elimination of hybrid ridings in the 32 presentations that were heard. The hearing phase in 2002 essentially established the way almost a million people have voted for a decade.

So, even though day one went to the “Conservative class”,  two and three showed significant improvement. Strong, cohesive arguments were made to continue forward with the proposed map. Those in support of the changes argued that the current system leaves Saskatchewan out of step with Canadian democracy and no longer reflects demographic realities. In the 70s and 80s when the Saskatchewan economy was more agriculturally-oriented, blended ridings made more sense, but the Province has changed in 30 years, and that’s what the commission is tasked to address. 

Despite what one might have heard in the first day of the hearing process, electoral boundaries ARE NOT a means to preserve Saskatchewan history. We can’t rob the commission of its purpose because it makes people uncomfortable.  The recurring argument against the changes was hinged on the idea that rural and urban identities are so intrinsically linked that there is no benefit in creating these distinctions between them, because there is no distinct urban identity in Saskatchewan.

Lunacy. I’m an urban person. I live, work, and play in the city. I might actually even die if I were left on a farm. But that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize the value of the rural identity, it just means they’re not like me, and it isn’t within my best interests for us to be pooled come election-time. The ‘non-urban identity’ is not a strong enough reason to maintain a weirdo electoral map that that gives us junk electoral results and alienates an already apathetic voter-base in the province.

There’s no question the well-prepared pleas of those who came forward in the second and third day of the hearings to support the new map were heard by the commission. Based on rough counts, the last two days both saw a 3:1 turnout of those in favour of the new electoral map. The commission takes this week off hearings and continue across the province next week, wrapping in Saskatoon on Saturday the 6th. Full Hearing details can be found here.  

The commission will release its decision by the end of December. Based on my scorecard, the Regina hearings were a 2-1 victory for those supporting the changes. Hopefully the commission can stick to their guns this time.