Montreal city council, West End politicians, and area residents have every reason to be angry and seek redress for the latest changes to Quebec’s electoral map that have resulted in the merging of Mont Royal and Outremont ridings.
Among the main objections to the change are that Jewish, Filipino, and Sri Lankan communities in Mont Royal believe they will lose clout by having their numbers diluted in the new riding, which is projected to have 56,390 voters. It will be among the biggest ridings in terms of the electorate in Quebec.
It also means that there is one fewer seat in Montreal and the West End where ethno-cultural groups and anglophones constitute an important share of the electorate.
Whether public pressure and possible court action can succeed in persuading the electoral commission to reverse its ruling remains to be seen: the commission says its new map is final, and by law will prevail for the next two elections, after which another revision can take place.
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In our view, while there is one less riding for voters in what is normally Liberal territory, there are more important issues on which public attention should focus, the main one in this context being Quebec’s lopsided electoral districts.
We strongly believe that the favouritism in terms of numbers shown to isolated and far-flung districts creates more of a challenge to our Parliamentary democracy than the merging of two ridings. Given the speed and efficiency of Internet communications, there is no reason but sentimental attachment to a bygone era for there to be seven ridings with numbers far below the current average of 48,952.
Outremont in the last election had 39,580 registered voters, so it was not far off the smallest in terms of voters. As such, it became a reasonable target for merger with a neighbouring riding. Yes, the Mile End part of the riding will be sliced off and added to Mercier, and there is some concern that this will dilute the clout of the Hasidic community, some of whose members live east of Hutchison. However, being well-organized and aware of their ability to use their electoral weight, there is every reason to believe this community can work to influence the votes under the new configuration in two ridings, not just one.
Similarly, Mont Royal had 43,154 eligible voters in the last election, more than 5,000 votes below the old average of 48,387. The fact that there are some major housing projects in the works there does not change the statistics until they are built and citizens move in. If and when that happens, the electoral commission is there to make adjustments.
While the population of Montreal Island is growing slowly, the major driver of Quebec’s population growth is in the 450 area code north and south of the island, and not on the island – the hole in the doughnut – and this trend must be reflected by the commission. Adding more seats is not part of its mandate, nor should it be. After all, Quebec with a population of 8.16 million has 125 provincial ridings, while Ontario with 13.45 million people, or two-thirds more, makes do with 107 members of its legislative assembly, and will only increase to 122 in the next election. Why does Quebec need more politicians than Canada’s biggest province?
The commission did bow to public pressure, reflected in the media, and in the end decided that merging Mont Royal and Outremont made more sense than the proposal to create the midtown riding of Ville Marie that would include parts of Westmount riding, Shaughnessy Village, Griffintown, the downtown core, Chinatown, the Gay Village, the so-called centre-sud, and part of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve – an assemblage of more than half a dozen “natural communities.” The electoral commission’s mandate is to ensure that each riding represents a natural community based on geographical, demographic, and sociological criteria, taking into consideration population density, the relative growth rate of the population, accessibility, natural boundaries and local municipalities.
The commission listened to comments and in the end agreed that Mont Royal and Outremont constitute more of a natural community.
Much more urgent in our view is the need to move toward equalizing the weight of each vote in the province by following the one-person-one-vote principle and reducing the disparity between the number of voters in rural and far-flung ridings in Quebec compared to the much larger numbers in more urban and densely populated areas of the province. Fewer MNAs, possibly with more staff to handle a bigger workload, makes more sense. Until then, public pressure, if sustained and well organized, may end up persuading the commission to reverse its ruling.