As a member of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of Saskatchewan, I do not agree with the recommendations outlined in the report being filed by my fellow commission members, Mr. Justice Ronald Mills and Dr. John Courtney, and am therefore filing this dissenting report.
I strongly disagree with the proposed electoral boundary changes. Our commission had heard from many residents, city councillors and business leaders from Regina and Saskatoon of their concerns about both cities losing elected representation. These are community leaders who, I believe, know more of what is best for their communities than the commission.
With such drastic changes in all of the ridings, I am very concerned about voter apathy. There will be voter confusion in the next election and possibly in the election after that. At a time when it is difficult to encourage voter turnout, changing the boundaries so drastically and causing voter confusion will only diminish that turnout.
Looking at the proposed changes and where the province is experiencing the greatest growth (that is, in Regina and Saskatoon), it is clear that in 10 years from now we will be making drastic changes again to address variances from the population quota. The Honourable Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, is boldly predicting, based on previous years' growth, that the population of Saskatchewan will be 1.2 million by the year 2020.
That will be two years prior to the next federal electoral boundaries review. If this increase comes to pass, we will have to go back to blended rural-urban ridings to bring fairness in terms of geographic size and fair representation to Regina and Saskatoon. If this population growth continues, we could see the population quota increase by over 10,000.
In my opinion, that would mean having to go back to the blended rural-urban ridings for two very significant reasons: to make the geographic size of the ridings fair to all residents of Saskatchewan; and to ensure fair representation in our two largest cities, Regina and Saskatoon.
The commission heard from many community leaders and residents about their concerns regarding trading patterns. Martensville and Warman have become cities because people working and doing their day-to-day business in Saskatoon have decided to move out of that urban centre for various reasons. This does not mean that their interests in relation to the city have changed. The same can be said for White City, Balgonie, Pilot Butte and Emerald Park outside of the city of Regina.
There were many letters and public submissions from people concerned about being removed from their normal trading patterns or from their "community of interest". The mayor of the city of Humboldt, about an hour away from the city of Saskatoon, was very concerned that Humboldt was no longer part of a Saskatoon riding since it maintains a connection to that city.
I understand that the role of the commission was to look at the geographic size of the ridings and also to consider their community of interest. The community of interest concept is very interesting as it can be defined in different ways. It can be defined by social interests, cultural interests, business interests, infrastructure interests, trading pattern interests, etc. Giving consideration to one or another of these varied types of interests can drastically change the boundaries of the ridings.
Close to 75% of the letters and public submissions the commission received were opposed to the proposed boundary changes. The number of replies that the commission heard and read, to my understanding, was the highest in Canada per capita. That is a very powerful argument for leaving the electoral boundaries, as close as the commission can, in their current form in Saskatchewan.
The first time that the commission met, the concept of strictly urban ridings was discussed. I felt that we could have adjusted some of the ridings around Regina and Saskatoon to reflect a more urban lens. I offered suggestions to the other commission members: for example, we could have made Meewasin into an urban riding by including Warman and Martensville with it. Blackstrap could easily have become an urban riding. This would have given Saskatoon two urban ridings and three ridings with an urban-rural blend. The overall number of seats in the city of Saskatoon would not have been reduced.
In Regina, the commission could have made the Wascana riding a predominately urban riding. Palliser could have included the city of Moose Jaw and a greater part of the west side of Regina. As well, Regina—Qu'Appelle could have included more of the northwest end of Regina and the communities east of Regina to become a more urban riding.
I also strongly believe that Moose Jaw's and Regina's communities of interest, from a federal perspective, are very similar. As well, because of their proximity, those two cities are very much connected by similar interests.
I strongly believe those changes would have addressed everyone's concerns. The number of seats in Regina and Saskatoon would not have been reduced, and rural ridings would not have grown so large.
Saskatchewan is a unique province. It is deep in history, with agriculture being its backbone. Our cities are connected in many ways to rural Saskatchewan and agriculture. Saskatchewan is a changing province: oil and gas development is growing; new potash mines are being built, and all others are expanding. All of this is taking place in rural Saskatchewan, but most of the employees and the service providers for these major industries will be housed in our cities.
Saskatchewan is experiencing and will continue to experience immigration growth. Many of the concerns that immigrants have must be dealt with at the provincial and municipal levels. Federal responsibilities are affordable housing, social programs and infrastructure. Saskatoon and Regina are seeing most of this immigration, so with these two cities now losing federal representatives, it is my opinion that they will be lacking representation.
In closing, I ask that the parliamentary committee reject the proposal put forward by Mr. Justice Mills and Professor Courtney of the Saskatchewan Commission. I would also ask that the committee request the commission to redraft the federal electoral boundaries report in order to come back with fairer representation for Regina and Saskatoon and to revisit the blended urban-rural ridings requested by approximately 75% of all submissions received. It is very important that we get this right because the province of Saskatchewan is experiencing growth unlike any it has seen in its history.
I have enjoyed my experience as a commission member. I have had the great privilege of serving rural Saskatchewan for the past seven years as president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities. I have seen rural and urban communities co-operating and working better together in the past five years than they have ever done before. If the committee approves the proposed boundary changes, I believe there will be a negative impact not only on our communities, but also on the province as a whole. This is not the time to change the boundaries so dramatically.
Dated at the City of Saskatoon, in the Province of Saskatchewan, this 19th day of December, 2012.
Mr. David Marit