Population shift and its consequences

A lot of fuss is being made about the proposed provincial electoral boundary changes. Too much fuss, in our opinion.
The proposed change to the Lesser Slave Lake riding is not that great. The commission obviously tried hard (or is trying, because the process is not finished) to not upset the rural apple cart too badly. But there is a dilemma and no getting around it without making rural ridings like this one even bigger. That’s tough on whoever the MLA is, but there is also no getting around the fact that urban ridings are under-represented, per capita than rural ones.
If you think the number of residents per MLA matters, then the unfairness is blatant and any argument for fixing it a sound one. Some city ridings have as many as 90,000 people, whereas the smallest rural one (people-wise) is under 30,000. How is that fair?
Granted, says the rural pundit. But equally how is it fair that our MLA has a gigantic area to serve, and if population balance is the only consideration, it’s going to get even bigger? Well, you weigh those factors against each other, make a decision on which you think is most important, and try to tweak the borders in the direction of better balance.
The commission, regardless of dark insinuations to the contrary, does not have a political motivation. It is nonsense that it serves the interests of one party or political point of view over another. But its terms of reference call for it to at least try for population balance among ridings.
Justice Myra Bielby, the commission chair, says the interim proposal on the boundary change does strike a balance. Interested parties in both camps (rural and urban) will say it doesn’t go far enough or goes too far. Certainly Lesser Slave, as large as it is proposed to get, comes nowhere near the average for riding population.
The dilemma continues, and isn’t going to go anywhere anytime soon. The same one, interestingly enough, exists on a smaller scale in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River. There are two electoral wards – each with three council spots. One ward has something like 40 per cent more residents than the other. That’s obviously unfair, if balanced representation per capita matters to you. But it’s awfully difficult to solve, as M.D. council learned recently. For the time being, it’s a sleeping dog better left that way.
The same may go for the provincial situation.
Meanwhile, you hear things like: ‘Rural ridings have too much clout!’ This from a recent Edmonton Journal opinion columnist. Or: ‘The cities won’t stop until they’ve squeezed rural Alberta to death!’ (This, paraphrased, from a recent editorial in the High Prairie South Peace News).
It’s never as bad as the alarmists make it sound, but there’s no getting away from the trend (going on for at least a century now) of people leaving the land to move to the cities. It does have ominous consequences, and a shift in political power is only one of them.

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