Regional concerns heeded in redrawing of electoral boundaries

· The Pulse

The commission in charge of redistributing federal electoral districts in Alberta has changed its mind about the way it groups municipalities in the region around Edmonton.

The changes follow public hearings held by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Alberta in the fall of 2022. The boundaries had to be redrawn to account for an increase in Alberta's seats in the House of Commons and population growth that, for example, has made Edmonton-Wetaskiwin the most populous riding in Canada, with more than 209,431 people, compared to the electoral quota of 115,206.

Several municipal leaders raised concerns during the hearings about where the commission proposed drawing the new lines, which would have seen the creation of a district called Spruce Grove-Leduc and another called Sherwood Park-Beaumont. Combining some municipalities south of Edmonton with those to the west and others with those to the east didn't make sense to speakers such as Bill Romanchuk, the superintendent for the Black Gold School Division.

"By deviating from strict population parity and giving due consideration to the community of interest and historical patterns, we believe the Commission can better ensure effective voter representation, while respecting the sense of belonging and community interest of the residents in our region," Romanchuk told the commission.

The new plan results in a riding called Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan, which consists of Strathcona County and Fort Saskatchewan, and Leduc-Wetaskiwin, which includes Beaumont, Leduc, Devon, Nisku, and Leduc County, among other municipalities.

Beaumont Mayor Bill Daneluik welcomed the decision to put his city back in the same riding with its close neighbours instead of aligning it with Strathcona County. "(It's) clear that the Commission took our words to heart and presented a thoughtful report for consideration by Members of Parliament," he said in a news release. "As the Commissioners noted in their report, the process has been an example of participatory democracy in action."

Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan will end up being 9.64% bigger than the electoral quota. "The presenters explained that they were quite prepared to have a larger population as a fair exchange for maintaining the existing boundaries of Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan as that decision would result in more effective representation for those communities," the report says.

Spruce Grove and Stony Plain will now be kept together in a riding called Parkland, which takes in the eastern part of Yellowhead County and stretches as far east as Enoch Cree Nation.

A map of the proposed boundaries for ridings surrounding Edmonton

The report of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Alberta proposes redrawing the boundaries in the Edmonton region to group communities differently from the initial proposal that public hearings gathered feedback on in the fall of 2022. (Federal Electoral Districts 2022)

The changes get rid of "rurban" ridings such as St. Albert-Edmonton and Edmonton-Wetaskiwin so that all nine of Edmonton's electoral districts are within city limits. The Edmonton portions of Edmonton-Wetaskiwin will be distributed among Edmonton Riverbend, Edmonton Southeast, and Edmonton Gateway.

Based on feedback during the hearings, the commission recommends moving Riverdale from Edmonton Strathcona to Edmonton Griesbach, whose boundaries would shift south and east to incorporate McCauley, Boyle Street, Parkdale, Cromdale, and Alberta Avenue. Edmonton Centre would shift westward from the initial proposal.

The commission made a few other changes to the names of proposed electoral districts in Edmonton and the surrounding area. It recommends changing Edmonton Winterburn to Edmonton Northwest and Edmonton Mill Woods to Edmonton Southeast to "better represent their geographic reality," and changing Sturgeon River to St. Albert-Sturgeon River, to reflect the presence of the largest city in the riding.

Federal electoral districts are reviewed after each census to ensure they reflect population changes. The commission aims to draw the boundaries as close as possible to the average population of a district within the province, but it also takes into account communities of interest or identity, historical patterns, and the physical size of the riding.

The report has now gone to the chief electoral officer, who will send it to the House of Commons for review by the standing committee on procedure and house affairs. Any objections raised by MPs will return to the commission for consideration, then the final report will be sent to the chief electoral officer to be implemented.

The changes would be in place for any federal election held after April 1, 2024. The current Liberal minority government has to call an election no later than 2025.