New federal electoral maps have been finalized in Quebec, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, setting the stage for the 2015 election races in each province.
Quebec's commission complained that onerous demands from MPs for riding name changes undermined the commission's authority, while the redrawn map in Saskatchewan could lead to more competitive races in the province's cities, despite complaints by Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
The riding changes in the three provinces were announced Wednesday and are part of a routine updating of Canada's electoral boundaries, to ensure ridings include a comparable number of voters. Independent commissions make the changes, but hear submissions from MPs and hold public hearings. Changes, however, can often make a difference on election day – a change in the demographic composition of an electoral riding can quickly change the fortunes of political parties running in it.
In finalizing its work, Quebec's commission said it "acquiesced" to a series of name changes demanded by MPs but warned its autonomy was threatened.
"We consider it appropriate and important to voice the hesitation and unease we felt in acquiescing to some of the Committee's wishes, particularly in regard to names," the three-person commission wrote, referring to the Conservative-led Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Quebec's committee later added that it "could be inferred that the commission's authority holds only insofar as it coincides with the views of the parliamentarians."
The commission further warned it "may be dangerous in the long run for [MPs] to reclaim powers of which they chose to divest themselves to ensure independence and reduce, as much as possible, the appearance of partisan leanings" but decided it "was not worth 'balking'" at MPs' requests. The MPs who made the requests in Quebec were not identified by the commission.
Ultimately, the commission renamed 11 ridings, acknowledging it had been compelled to use "vague descriptive names" in some cases, specifically citing the riding of "Centre-du-Bas-Saint-Laurent," which it had previously hoped to simply call "Rimouski."
In Saskatchewan, the independent commission largely stuck by its goal of having "solely urban" ridings in Regina and Saskatoon, doing away with hybrid rural-urban models. The Conservative Party, which holds all but one seat in Saskatchewan, had preferred the hybrid ridings, and benefited from them in some cases.
Conservative MP Kelly Block, for instance, won the riding of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar by 538 votes in 2011 despite finishing roughly 2,500 votes behind the lead in the riding's Saskatoon portion – it was the surrounding areas that gave Ms. Block the win. The urban part of that riding will now largely make up Saskatoon-West.
The Conservative Party fought the Saskatchewan changes, eventually incurring a fine of $78,000 for robocalls the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said violated the rules.
Now, Saskatchewan will have three urban ridings in each of its two biggest cities, five of them nearly entirely urban. One hybrid riding – that of Speaker Andrew Scheer – remains, made up of a chunk of Regina and several smaller communities to the northeast.
New ridings lead to a shuffling among incumbents, who often face the prospect of running against each other. It's not clear if that will happen in Saskatchewan, where some incumbent MPs have already announced they're retiring. Others have quickly decided where to run. MP Brad Trost, who had represented the hybrid riding of Saskatoon-Humboldt, says he will run in the new urban riding of Saskatoon-University. Mr. Trost has dismissed the suggestion it could put his seat at risk, arguing that Saskatoon's fast-growing suburbs have ample support for the Conservatives.
The Saskatchewan map changes could open the door to the Liberals – whose Deputy Leader, Ralph Goodale, currently holds the only non-Conservative seat in Saskatchewan – or New Democrats, who were Ms. Block's closest competition. Mr. Trost, however, said the Conservatives will still be the heavy favourites in the province.
In B.C., the commission redrew the map while adding six new seats, saying "it could reasonably be anticipated that not everyone would endorse our proposed dispositions."
Electoral commissions in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have all finalized those provinces' new maps. The commission in Ontario – the province with the most seats – is the only one still finalizing its map.
Canada's next federal election is set for Oct. 19, 2015.