On Friday, those people found out that was a pretty silly hope on their part. That’s the day the commission released its preliminary maps of the new 36 districts on the island. The district maps appeared on the Internet around 11:00 AM and by noon the truly hard-core political nerds had looked at the maps and sized them up.
Here are some quick observations on the boundaries and initial reactions to them.
Ruralism: New Democratic Party boss Earle McCurdy has been banging the drum of ruralism since this whole boundary thing started in January. Some news stories have already started to run with the message that rural Newfoundland suffers the most reductions under this 40 seat scheme. The mayor of Corner Brook took to Twitter on Saturday to complain that the boundaries for the cities in his municipality include too many rural people. This means, according to Charles Pender, that those rural issues will take away from the needs of Corner Brook.
What all of these observations have in common is the shock at being faced with the massive demographic shift in rural Newfoundland. The physical size of the seats in the re-drawn district maps is a simple result of what you get when you divide a given population by a small number than the one you used before to divvy up a slightly larger population.
In other words, when you make districts of 12 to 14 thousand people you have to draw a really big district in some parts of the province to capture that many people. In metro St. John’s you can find about 14,000 people in 10 square kilometres. Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, the only seat on the island that didn’t change in this re-districting has 7,401 people in it and it covers 15, 055 square kilometres.
If you represent the people of Newfoundland and Labrador equally and equitably in the House of Assembly with 36 seats on the island, this is the sort of district maps you will wind up with. All the moaning about how rural Newfoundland will be hard done by is just a pile of crap. No one will pay any attention because the alternative is to disadvantage some of the people in the province – particularly on the northeast Avalon – so that others can have a disproportionate advantage in representation in the House of Assembly.
No one cares. And that’s really a huge point lots of people seem to miss. Ordinary voters don’t give a toss about this exercise in re-districting. When asked, they will support it but when asked to name their top 10 government things they are concerned about, cutting the House of Assembly isn’t even in the top 100.
There’s not going to be a massive Bill 29 uprising against the district changes.
What next? The boundaries commission will deliver its final report in June, the House will approve the new boundaries and turn the whole thing over to the organizationally addled crowd at Elections Newfoundland and Labrador. They might be in a position to run an election in the fall. Odds are they won’t but then again the fall election is only a theoretical notion anyway.
The Conservatives don’t have to worry about much. Most of their elected members won’t be running again.
The New Democrats in St. John’s have a problem. George Murphy and Lorraine Michael both have a claim to the same seat. If Murphy leaves the seat to Lorraine, he’d have to move off to a seat where he doesn’t stand a hope in hell of getting elected. Lorraine’s chances of getting re-elected are slimmer than they were, as well. Gerry Rodgers has a shot at the re-defined St. John’s Centre, but it all depends on who she is up against.
The Liberals had half their nominations done when this redistricting idea came up. Now they have to run all their nominations again. In the two Humber districts, the Liberals have three candidates but two seats. Expect Stelman Flynn to go down to defeat against Gerry Byrne or Ed Joyce.
Jim Bennett and Dwight Ball now face the prospect of fighting over the same seat – Gros Morne. If Bennett thought for a second, he’d look to run somewhere else altogether where the Liberals currently don;t have a candidate. The Liberals will also have a few seats to sort out in on the western side of Conception Bay. There’s nothing insurmountable but the whole thing: the Liberals just have to do it all again.