Monday, May 28, 2012

Newfoundland and Labrador boundary commission proposal announced

The commission's proposed boundaries
On Friday, the Newfoundland and Labrador federal electoral district boundary commission became the first of the provincial commissions to release their proposed map of Newfoundland's federal ridings to be used for the next ten years.

Newfoundland won't be getting any new seats this time, but there are some significant boundary changes proposed due to the large shift in the population in the province. The St. John's area is seeing a significant increase in population, while the rural parts of the province have continued to see a decline in population.

One of the big questions going into the redistribution process for the province was whether or not the commission would continue to tolerate the riding of Labrador's existence. With just 27,000 people, it is currently Canada's smallest riding by population- even smaller than any of Canada's three territories. The riding is only 25% the size of the average riding in Canada. It exists only due to it being an “extraordinary circumstance”. It is an isolated region, completely separate from the rest of the province and is its own distinct region. Labrador has been considered unique enough to form its own riding for the last 25 years. The boundary commission did not want to change this, despite the region now being the smallest riding in the country (it was the 2nd smallest, after Nunavut for the last redistribution). There is a ferry link connecting the region to the rest of the province, so it may not be that unreasonable to make a larger riding, including northern Newfoundland, but the commission decided against this, and appears to have not even considered it. 

Current map. (Source: Elections Canada)

So, with Labrador out of the way, the rest of the province had to be divided into the remaining six districts allotted to the province. The average size of these six districts was calculated at 81,000 people. One riding (St. John's South—Mount Pearl) was close enough to this population to remain unchanged in this proposal. Here is an analysis of the remaining five proposed ridings:

St. John's North. 
The present riding of St. John's East has ballooned in size to 101,000 people, much larger than the 81,000 average needed. With the neighbouring St. John's South—Mount Pearl riding staying the same, the only area that could be lost was in the western part of the riding, which was given to the neighbouring Avalon riding. The commission proposed moving the part of Conception Bay South in the riding and the western half of Paradise into Avalon to bring the population down to 83,000. For some reason, the commission decided to rename the riding “St. John's North”, despite the fact that the orientation of the riding did not change. They cited the fact that this name “makes more sense”. However, the last commission also tried this, but the riding name was quickly reverted to St. John's East. I believe it is likely that the riding will end up being called St. John's East once again.

Politically, the proposed changes in the riding wouldn't change much. NDP MP Jack Harris won every single poll in the riding in 2011, so losing any part of it wont hurt him at all.

The proposed changes in Avalon would make the riding far less Liberal.

 Now that 18,000 people were shifted from St. John's East into this riding, it needed to lose some territory in its western area, where it borders Random—Burin—St. George's. The commission proposed moving the area along Trinity Bay and down along Conception Bay up to the village of Kingston to the new riding of Bonavista—Burin—Trinity.

In the 2011 election, Avalon was a very close riding, where the Liberal, Scott Andrews defeated the Conservative candidate by just 1259 votes. The bad news for Andrews is the proposed changes to Avalon would make the riding much less Liberal friendly. I haven't crunched the numbers, but it would appear by just looking at the map that he would've lost the riding under the proposed boundaries. The area along Trinity Bay is the most Liberal part of the riding, and the proposal is to take it out of the riding. The addition of part of St. John's East could hurt or help Andrews. The proposed changes see the entire City of Conception Bay South united in one riding, and Andrews is a former member of that city's city council. However, the Liberals finished a distant third in this area in the 2011 election, and the area is traditionally a Tory region.

The commission should not be blamed for gerrymandering Andrews out of a seat though. Taking out the Trinity Bay area was the most logical choice for the commission, as it is the most westerly part of the riding, which is only connected to the rest of Newfoundland by a narrow isthmus. That isthmus itself is a very Liberal region, so any riding coming out of the rest of the island would have to take in the isthmus first. Since the isthmus bounds Trinity Bay, the next most logical area to lose would be the rest of the area bounding the bay. Perhaps, if Avalon lost some if its southern areas to the new riding west of it, Andrews could be saved. But, that riding wouldn't make as much logical sense.

This is a new riding proposed by the commission that takes in the Burin Pensinsula and the Random-Clarenville regions from the current riding of Random—Burin—St. George's, the Bonavista Bay region from Bonavista—Gander--Grand Falls—Windsor, and the Trinity Bay area from Avalon. The commission decided that the current riding of Random—Burin—St. George's was like its namesake, quite random, as it connected parts of the province that weren't directly connected by any transpiration link. That's why they decided to make this new riding, which is more compact, and is well connected by transportation.

Random—Burin—St. George's MP Judy Foote, a Liberal, will likely choose this riding to run in, as she is based out of the Burin peninsula. This new riding will be fairly safe for her. As mentioned, the Trinity Bay area is quite Liberal, as is the Bonavista Bay area. Foote also loses some of the more competitive parts of her current riding's western region, leaving the Burin Peninsula which is also quite Liberal.

Bay d'Espoir—Central--Notre Dame.  
This new riding is based in central Newfoundland, taking in the Baie Verte Peninsula and the Springdale area from the riding of Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, the south central coast of Newfoundland from Random—Burin—St. George's and the Notre Dame Bay area and central Newfoundland from Bonavista—Gander--Grand Falls—Windsor. This is another nice compact riding, which is centrally based, connecting the south central and north central coasts of the province with the large urban centres of Gander and Grand Falls—Windsor located in the central part of the province. My only issue with this riding is the proposed name. Simply calling the riding “Central Newfoundland” would be the best course of action in my opinion. As it stands, the current proposed name of the riding encompasses none of the geographical names used in any of the current electoral districts. Also, throwing in the name “Central” in the middle of the name is quite ambiguous.

Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor MP Scott Simms, a Liberal will probably run in this riding. He lives in Bishop's Falls which will be in this riding, plus most of the major population centres of his current riding will be in this one too. Simms may face a tougher challenge in this riding however. It loses his strong hold region of Bonavista Bay, while it gains some strong Tory areas around Springdale and in the Baie Verte Peninsula. The sparsely populated Bay d'Espoir area however has some very Liberal regions. Overall, Simms' strength as an MP should help him win this new riding.

Long Range Mountains.  
The commission decided to lump all of western Newfoundland into one riding, extending from Channel-Port aux Basques in the south to Saint Anthony in the north. While a long riding, it is connected its entire length by highway. The proposed riding takes in the Great Northern Peninsula and Humber River areas from the current riding of Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte as well as the St. George's Bay area and the southwestern corner of the province from Random—Burin—St. George's. The riding does make a lot of logical sense, but I do take issue with the proposed name, which comes from the mountain range which it follows. While geographical names are nice for riding names, shortening it to “Long Range” would be preferable. However, I would most prefer keeping the historical region names in the riding name, and I would call it “Humber—St. Barbe—St. George's”.

Corner Brook resident and Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte MP Gerry Byrne, a Liberal, would most likely run in this riding. The political make up the riding would not change much. He loses some Tory areas around the Baie Verte Peninsua and around Springdale, while he would gain some Tory and NDP pockets which line St. George's Bay. This would be an even trade off for him.

Aside from the names, the boundary proposal submitted by the Newfoundland and Labrador commission is quite a sound one, that I more or less support. I'm not too keen on keeping Labrador as one district, as it is continuing to lose population, making its existence as a riding more and more ridiculous. However, I can understand why they decided to keep it as a riding.

Overall, the proposal by the boundary commission has to be bad news for the Liberals. It makes one riding, Avalon an almost assured loss for the party, which has to be a concern for the party. It also makes MP Scott Simms' re-election more difficult with the addition of some new Tory territory in his riding. This is great news for the Conservatives, who will be looking to make gains in the province where they have had difficulties in the last two elections. 

You can read the commission's report here


  1. Hatman, I'm curious. If Lab were to be combined with the island, how would you proposed redistributing for the province?

  2. The only reason Avalon was close was that Fabian Manning resigned from the senate to run there for the Tories. He lost and got reappointed to the senate for the second time and became an object of ridicule. Had he not run for the Tories, the Liberals would have won in a landslide. Politics in NL is often very personality based. The areas that went Tory in Avalon went more for Manning personally than for the Conservative party. We cannot assume that polls that went for Manning would support any other Ory challenger in 2015.

    1. Actually polling, which can be taken with a grain of salt, showed that Fabian Manning was more of a liability for the Conservatives in Avalon and that had John Ottenheimer, who ran against Judy Foote, ran there he would have won.

  3. It's true that we can't assume anything. All we can do is look at past results based on the new boundaries and make predictions as we see it.

    @ Novelty. I considered doing that. Perhaps down the right I might make a map. :)

  4. I think its fair to speculate about how seats would have gone in the 2011 election if they had been fought under the new map - but its hard to speculate about what will happen in 2015 - especially in NL where old voting patterns are changing so rapidly what with the emergence of the NDP. You have already engaged in some speculation by saying that the polls from St. John's East that get transferred to Avalon won't necessarily go NDP since Jack Harris won't be on the ballot - that may be so - but if you are willing to say that NDP votes might not stick in the absence of Harris, isn't it just as valid to say that most of the Tory vote in Avalon will evaporate with no Fabian Manning on the ballot?

  5. Great overview, I look forward to the other 9. :)

  6. While Manning did get a lot of personal support in Avalon, the Avalon peninsula does have a lot of historical Tory strengths. Historically, much of the riding was located in the two St. John's seats, which are formerly Tory strongholds. The rest of the riding was in Bonavista-Trinity-Conception, which was a Liberal stronghold, and is where much of the Liberal support in the riding remains.

    I can tell you that I honestly believe Jack Harris won more personal votes than Fabian Manning. Without Manning on the ballot, the Tories won't lose as much support as the NDP would without Harris.

  7. While there is ferry service between the island and Labrador it has only been running during the Winter for the last couple of years and is still quite unreliable due to ice conditions. One MP for Labrador and the western portion of the island would have a very difficult time serving constituents. Labrador grew slightly during the last census and should see a major boom in population over the coming years.

  8. You noted that the commission appears to have not even considered combining Labrador with northern Newfoundland. One reason for this would be unanimous consent; the 2002 Commission reported "It is of interest, however, that of the submissions received from other electoral districts, none objected to Labrador continuing as a single electoral district. In fact, many expressed support for this position. That being so, the Commission is satisfied that no change be made to the electoral district of Labrador."

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