Once again we are faced with a redistribution of our 87 provincial constituencies. Every eight years we go through this exercise of adjusting the boundaries of our political divisions to account for shifts in the population and invariably we come up with the same old arguments.
Urban ridings continue to grow usually at the expense of rural ridings and of course the urbanites always cry out for a more equitable redistribution of seats based on the mantra ‘Rep by Pop.’
Representation by population, in my opinion, is not always the most equitable.
Let’s take a look at the functions of an MLA. It goes without saying that the MLA is there to represent his or her constituents. But when it comes right down to it that can mean many things.
Firstly a member is there to cast votes on impending legislation. In the end that usually means towing the party line so whichever party is in power that’s where your vote goes. Yes, your vote is most critical in caucus as opposed to in the legislature where the decisions are formally made. If the governing party has a slim majority decisions are then made by caucus and the end legislation is passed not really by a majority vote of the elected representatives but possibly by as little as possibly even 26 to 30 percent of those elected.
Secondly, and perhaps the most time consuming role of an MLA, is spent in representing constituents in stickhandling their way through the government bureaucracy.
Both of these functions require an MLA to get to know the constituents and the constituency.
Urban MLAs may be one of a dozen or so in a single municipality and may only have a few schools in their constituency. There may even be more MLAs than city councillors. Most issues of specific interest in an urban municipality are actually handled by those councillors or school boards.
Rural MLAs, on the other hand, often represent a dozen or more towns or villages which means a dozen or more municipal councils, school boards and schools to get to know. In addition, most of the provincial infrastructure and industry is located in rural ridings. A rural MLA must be knowledgeable and attuned to the needs and problems of thousands of kilometres of pipelines and transmission lines and vast areas of environmentally sensitive lands that are prone to industrial demand.
Urban members are usually busy during the week and relatively free on weekends. Rural representatives, however, are busy during the week, often far from home during sessions, and then have to return to their constituencies on the weekend to connect with constituents across a wide tract of land. Modern communications certainly assist a rural MLA but they still must spend many hours behind the wheel.
If we look at the national picture our three territories would only be entitled to a single MP between them if we rigidly supported representation by population and Metro Toronto would get even more than the 50 they now have. Is that equitable? I certainly don’t think so!
‘Rep by Pop’ is not always the most equitable solution.
Ken Allred is a former St. Albert alderman and MLA.