Why is it Saskatchewan seems to take perverse pride in marching to its own drummer?
Last week Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House of Commons and MP for the riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle, tabled the province’s Federal Boundaries Commission’s final report in Parliament. In what appears to be an unprecedented situation, however, the report was not unanimous.
David Marit, refused to sign off on the report submitting instead a dissenting report and asking the Standing Committee on Procedure and House affairs to reject the proposal, which calls for five new urban-only constituencies, three for Saskatoon and two for Regina.
Immediately, and predictably, battle lines were drawn between Conservatives who oppose the new map and non-Conservatives who support it.
At the heart of the opposition’s argument is the idea that Saskatchewan is different than every other jurisdiction in the country, that there is no appreciable difference between urban and rural concerns.
This would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragically illogical. The primary mandate of boundaries commissions is to arrange ridings in such a way that “communities of interest” are respected.
Tom Lukiwski, MP for Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre who is leading the charge against the boundaries report, points out that people living just outside the city limits represent a community of interest with their neighbours just inside the city limits. While that may be true, in order to make this argument, Lukiwski has to completely dismiss the rest of the evidence. For example, in Lukiwski’s riding, the people in Lumsden may have more common interest with Regina, but the people of Davidson arguably have more common interest with Saskatoon. But that is typical conservative illogic at its finest, find an outlier and use it to dismiss all the other evidence.
There is good reason for the Conservatives to be worried. I lived in Saskatoon and there is no way a guy the Maurice Vellacott gets elected without the rural vote.
Don’t worry, I’m not letting NDPers off the hook either. They made the argument that they got 33 per cent of the vote in the last election, but got zero per cent of the seats. That really is unfair, but that is how our electoral system works right now. This argument has nothing to do with electoral boundaries. It is an argument for proportional representation. Do we need electoral reform in this country? Yes, we do, but that was not on the table for the boundaries commission.
It also smacks a little of sour grapes. After all, Saskatchewan has had mixed ridings since 1966 and the NDP has held them many times.
The three-person commission was tasked with coming up with electoral districts that provide the best representation possible. Conservatives have accused Justice Ronald Mills and Dr. John Courtney of having predetermined that Regina and Saskatoon needed urban-only ridings. So what if they did? It’s not a popularity contest and it’s not an election. That is precisely why we empanel an independent commission to set the boundaries and don’t leave it up to self-interested politicians.
If it makes sense, it makes sense. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction in the country that had these ridiculous mixed urban-rural ridings in the first place. And it may have (stress on may) made sense back in the 1960s when Regina and Saskatoon were little more than glorified villages and many of their residents still had one foot on the farm, but these are modern, cosmopolitan cities now.
The pro-side also has its suspicions of bias on the part of Marit. He is president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM). SARM came out against the proposal during the public consultation process. I am not going to accuse him of anything, but the question must be asked, isn’t that a conflict of interest? He said no. Mills avoided the question. Scheer’s office refused to let me talk to him.
In any event, it looks like Saskatchewan is once again going to have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era.
When I was studying to become a municipal administrator for the Village of Abernethy, I was shocked to find out Saskatchewan, with the second smallest provincial population in the country, has the second largest number of municipalities. Seriously, we have more municipalities than Ontario. Again, every other jurisdiction in the nation, except Quebec, has consolidated its municipalities and there is good reason for that.
It’s all fine and dandy to march to a different drummer, but not when best practices indicate there is a better way.