Concerns are being raised by the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and by politicians whose federal ridings stand to be affected by a redistribution plan that, if passed, would see the representation of Northern Ontario drop to nine ridings from the current 10.
The proposal by the Electoral Boundary Commission would also have North Bay and area residents voting in a renamed Nipissing riding — as they had from 1896 until 2004 — when the present Nipissing—Timiskaming riding was amalgamated and introduced. The reconfigured Nipissing coverage area would include current Nickel Belt riding municipalities such as West Nipissing and would extend west toward Sudbury, with a border near Stinson.
This process is conducted every 10 years using the most recent census results. The proposal calls for five new seats across Canada with Ontario to increase by one seat, to 122, in the House of Commons. Three seats are to be added in Alberta, with one more seat in British Columbia.
In a letter to the Commission, FONOM President Danny Whalen commends the Redistribution Plan for Northern Ontario for its addition of Indigenous representation via the proposed creation of a Kiiwetinoong—Mushkegowuk riding but then shares some of his concerns about the plan's "negative impacts on Northern Ontario."
FONOM asks that the Commission "retains the current 10 Electoral Districts as they are today, plus the planned Indigenous Representation. Geographically, Northern Ontario is quite large. The distance from North Bay to the Manitoba border is 1,623 kilometres while the distance from North Bay to Charlottetown is 1,693," Whalen writes.
"Your research shows you that the existing ridings are large already. Currently, the Members have a difficult job fairly representing their constituents. The MPs do an admirable job and represent Canada well, but we believe the new alignments will make their efforts even more difficult," he adds. "[A]ny redistribution will divide our established First Nations, Francophone, and Municipal Associations."
According to the Timeline for the Redistribution of Federal Electoral Districts, the proposed changes would not come into effect before April 1, 2024.
"In exercising its mandate under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act and given the allocation of one additional district to Ontario, the Commission found it necessary to propose many new electoral boundaries to correct wide variations in voter equality that have emerged across the province over the past decade due to population change," says the Honourable Justice Lynne C. Leitch, Chair of the three-member commission responsible for readjusting the province's federal electoral boundaries. The Chair is appointed by the provincial chief justice, while members are appointed by the Speaker of the House.
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario states the proposal "reflects Ontario's increase in population from 12,851,821 in 2011 to 14,223,942, as captured in the 2021 Census, and takes into consideration communities of interest or identity, and historic and geographic factors.
"Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, the Commission's main aim in redrawing the boundaries is to divide the province into 122 electoral districts that are as close to the electoral quota as reasonably possible, while taking into consideration the factors listed above. The electoral quota is calculated by dividing the population of the province by the number of electoral districts it has been allocated. In the case of Ontario, the quota for each electoral district is 116,590 (14,223,942 residents divided by 122 electoral districts)."
- Nickel Belt
- Parry Sound—Muskoka
- Sault Ste. Marie
- Thunder Bay—Rainy River
- Thunder Bay—Superior North
- Timmins—James Bay
- Kenora—Thunder Bay—Rainy River
- Manitoulin—Nickel Belt
- Parry Sound—Muskoka
- Sault Ste. Marie
- Thunder Bay—Superior North
Northern NDP MPs have also been speaking out about the possible redistribution. The Nipissing riding would maintain its current Nipissing—Timiskaming southern and eastern borders and would extend to the north just past Temagami. The Timiskaming part of the riding would be absorbed into the present Timmins—James Bay riding, enlarging an already vast coverage area for its representative, MP Charlie Angus.
"Northern Ontario is getting kicked in the teeth with the latest plan for riding redistribution," Angus says. "Our region is already isolated and underrepresented. Taking a seat from the north will further isolate the voice of northerners."
In a Facebook post (see below), Angus laments, "The Electoral Boundary Commission believes Northern Ontario (800,000 square kilometres) is over-represented in Parliament. They propose to cut a riding from Northern Ontario and give it to Brampton (256 square kilometres), which already has FIVE MPs."
In a SooToday report, Carol Hughes, the MP since 2008 for the federal riding surrounding Sault Ste. Marie says she will fight any reorganization that would result in Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing being erased from the electoral map, with the territory covered by her riding being absorbed by adjacent ridings.
“The rural areas need to have a voice and it can’t be diluted by the greater cities. I think that is extremely important,” noted Hughes. “The voices in Northern Ontario have to be heard, those representations need to be maintained.”
Angus states, that in Canada "democracy is not defined merely as 'one person- one vote,' but on the need to ensure representation by regions. This is why in Yukon there is one MP for 34,000, Labrador [one for] 26,000 people, in PEI, 30,000, and Saskatchewan has ridings from 63,000 to 75,000 people. The north has a completely different reality from Southern Ontario and yet we are being considered 'over-represented,' in comparison to densely populated suburban ridings. We have nothing in common with that reality. The last time they tried this there was a huge outpouring of opposition in the north and the redistribution was stopped. People will need to speak up."
At least one public hearing must be held, no sooner than 30 days from the publication of the proposed electoral district boundary changes, by the three-member commission charged to oversee the riding change process. The Commission has set September 25 as the date by which the Public Participation Hearing Form is to be filed. Members of the public who wish to make a representation at a hearing must complete a Public Hearing Participation Form.
The Commission says it "welcomes input and engagement from the public in this important democratic exercise." For more on the public participation process, click here.
In his letter to the Commission, Whalen also raises FONOM's apprehensions about difficulties navigating its redistribution website and that the one planned consultation for all of Northern Ontario is scheduled for October 11 in Timmins.
"I have real concerns with only one in-person consultation session for a region of the province this realignment covers. This vital consultation is also coinciding with a Municipal Election. As a municipal politician running for re-election, I believe that very few individuals will take the time away from campaigning to drive to Timmins for the session.
"The Northern Ontario session is also happening in the middle of the hunting season. The timing of the Commission's consultation highlights a further lack of understanding for our part of Ontario. FONOM recommends you increase and extend the consultation in Northern Ontario until January 2023."
FONOM is billed as the unified voice of Northeastern Ontario, representing and advocating on behalf of 110 cities, towns and municipalities with a mission to improve the economic and social quality of life for all northerners and to ensure the future of its youth.
Angus maintains the redrawing of the ridings will make effective representation impossible and has been imploring constituents and northerners to voice those concerns.
"[T]he former Kenora riding will be an extension of Thunder Bay, a nine-hour drive from Kenora. Timmins—James Bay will add numerous communities from Smooth Rock Falls to Hearst and the Tri-Town region in the south," says Angus. "Having regular MP service across this region will not be possible. It will also mean that small communities must compete with more communities for funding in all manner of programs. As the federal government withdraws services to the public, the MP’s office has become a major point of contact for passports, pensions, and immigration cases."