Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Ridings They Are a Changin'

So, as everyone should be aware, there is a movement underway to redraw some of the constituency maps here in Saskatchewan.

And although the boundary changes are only in their preliminary stage, there is some optimism coming from the people who have viewed them, as well as some grumblings coming from sitting Members of Parliament. The main source for optimism is the fact that Saskatchewan is on its way to developing some pure Urban ridings, as opposed to current Urban-Rural ridings that exist at the moment.

For those outside of Saskatchewan, allow me to explain. Let's highlight the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's largest city. The city itself is carved into areas, and then those areas are lumped together with surrounding rural areas to comprise a federal riding. Take for example, Saskatoon-Humboldt. The riding comprises a good portion of the North-Eastern part of Saskatoon, then stretches out to touch the Yorkton-Melville, Regina-Qu'appelle, Prince Albert, and Saskatoon-Wanuskewin ridings. This is a large swatch of area for anyone to cover; it also contains some different mindsets what with the so-called 'rural-urban divide' (which I will discuss later in this post.)

Instead of this, the Boundaries Commission has proposed that Saskatoon itself be split into 3 pure urban ridings. This means the ridings themselves will remain exclusively within the city, while the previous rural areas will be combined as needed to form their own ridings.

Needless to say, this is a development that has caused many to become excited at the prospect. For years, people on the left of the political spectrum have said that the rural-urban ridings produced skewed results that favoured Conservative candidates. Furthermore, a good argument has been made about the size of the ridings being a challenge to good representation.

Let's talk a bit about the first point.

It is somewhat true that rural areas in Saskatchewan seem to bleed Tory Blue. Of course, as the birthplace of the CCF this wasn't always the case; but a distinct shift seemed to occur in the 1980s after the NDP supported the Charlottetown Accord and turned off some supporters in the west. This seems to be the place to bring up the so called 'Urban-Rural Divide'.

A few Saskatchewan Conservatives have expressed concern over these purely urban ridings. A few of them have held up the mantra of 'we can't pit urban vs rural needs' as their defense of keeping the current system; but allow me to try and explain why this isn't so.

There is an idea that urban and rural people stand on two opposite sides of a great chasm that can never be breached. This is quite simply not the case.

We all care about generating jobs, which in turn keep young people in communities, which in turn keep communities striving. Whether you're a city, or a town or a village or a hamlet (etc, etc, etc) your first order of business is to keep the place going. Jobs are one measure of doing that, and as such is something that a person considers when casting a ballot.

Taxes are another. There is some room for division here, given in recent history how rural voters in Saskatchewan flocked to the Sask Party in order to get out of paying property education taxes. We may care a bit different over which taxes, but I think we all expect fair taxes. And that is an issue that branches the so called divide, and shows that as a people we do care about making sure that we are at least taxed fairly.

Effectively, I don't think there are any major issues that truly create this rural-urban divide. When it comes down to brass tacks, we all essentially care about the same issues and want to see them resolved. And while there can sometimes be a contest between an urban area and a rural one for funding on an issue, I don't think this alone can constitute a rural-urban divide; after all, provinces compete for federal funding all the time...Through there is talk of an East-West divide, so perhaps that's not the greatest example.

Or perhaps people just like the idea of dividing lines. When it comes down to it, we're all Canadians, regardless of where you land geographically. Shouldn't that be enough to keep us from bickering with one another?

Well, before I stray too far off topic, let's look at the second point.

There is an argument now that present ridings are too large too allow a single MP to represent them well. For rural-urban ridings, this is particularly a problem. After all, if you have 25,000 constituents in a city and only 15,000 in the rural, which would you focus on your time and effort on during and in the lead up to an election?

By cutting the urban people out of the equation, rural areas can expect GREATER representation by their Member of Parliament. Why, you ask? It is because this MP can no longer just go to the largest population centre and curry favour with the electorate there. This will make so called 'rural' MPs actually get out into their rural areas.

And any time a person is given access to their MP, is a good thing for the strength of our democracy.

Effectively, let us hope that these proposed boundaries become the future boundaries for Saskatchewan's political map. I, for one, think it will enhance our democratic process and increase the representation for the average citizen in our province. And after all, isn't it time for this change?

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