Saturday, June 30, 2012

B.C. federal riding boundary proposal analysis part 1 (Vancouver Island)

Map of the current ridings on Vancouver Island
Another province has released its proposals for the federal riding redistribution. While I as expecting Nova Scotia to be up next, the British Columbia boundary commission surprised me by releasing their proposal on Friday.

British Columbia has been allotted 42 seats, which means a gain of six seats from the 36 seats they have currently. That means that each riding will have approximately 105,000 people. That's too many ridings to break down into one blog post, so I'll break the province down into regions. First up is Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Island has seen a lot of growth over the last 10 years, and is set to gain one more riding. Presently it has six ridings, but will be getting a seventh. The population of the six ridings sit at about 735,000, which means that 7 105,000 people ridings will fit perfectly into the area. However, for some reason the commission expanded this area to include the Powell River area on the mainland, which seems bizarre. The riding of Vancouver Island North already includes part of the mainland, and it is proposed to gain Powell River.

Much of the growth in Vancouver Island has come in the Victoria suburbs, which is where the commission proposed the new, seventh riding. They are calling it “South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca”. This creation has set a domino affect into each of the other ridings, all of which will be shifting over a bit to make room.

The commission's proposed boundaries

Here are the proposed changes:

Vancouver Island North
This riding consists of the northern 2/5ths of Vancouver Island, plus a large, sparsely populated area on the mainland. With 118,000 people, this riding is too over populated, so the commission opted to remove the Courtenay area from the riding (separating it from its neighbour of Comox). This took too much people out of the riding, so the commission added the Powell River area on the mainland to bring the riding up to a reasonable size.

Vancouver Island North is a very marginal riding, having swung back and forth from the Conservatives and the NDP recently. The Tories won it by just 3% of the vote in 2011. The proposed riding boundary looks to benefit the Tories slightly. Courtenay is an NDP-friendly city, and removing it from the riding will surely benefit the Conservatives. The addition of Powell River does not help either party, as the area is politically polarized between the north half of the city (and the surrounding areas) that supports the NDP while the southern half of the city supports the Conservatives.

Now that a lot more of the riding would be on the mainland, calling it just “Vancouver Island North” would be a misnomer, and I am not sure why the commission decided to keep the name as is. Calling it “Vancouver Island North—Powell River” would make more sense.

Nanaimo—Alberni is the most Conservative riding on the Island, as it is home to Nanaimo's wealthy west end. However, with its current borders, the riding is still winnable for the NDP which lost the seat by 8% in 2011. The proposed riding boundaries will give the NDP an even better chance of winning the riding. The district gains the NDP friendly city of Courtenay from Vancouver Island North. However, it loses some NDP areas in Nanaimo, furthering the polarized divide in that city.

Currently, Nanaimo—Alberni is way oversized at 127,000. The proposed changes would shrink the size to 110,000. Again, the commission decided not to alter the name of the riding. However, the addition of Courtenay into the riding means it should be added to the riding's name. The city is not very close to Nanaimo, and is not in the Alberni-Clayoquot riding. Thus, I would recommend the riding name be “Nanaimo—Alberni—Courtenay”.

At 131,000, Nanaimo—Cowichan is Vancouver Island's second most populous riding. Significant changes had to be made to bring the riding down to size. The commission proposes removing the City of Duncan and the District Municipality of North Cowichan, part of Ladysmith and surrounding areas and moving them to the new riding of “South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca”. In addition, the riding gains a bit more of Nanaimo.

If anything, the riding gets slighly more Conservative with the addition of more of Nanaimo. While the riding would gain all of the NDP friendly areas in west Nanaimo, it also has to take in a lot of Conservative areas with it. However, almost all of the Conservative pockets of the current riding will be lost to the new riding of South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca. Without looking at a transposition of the numbers however, it is difficult to tell which party would gain from this. But, the most important fact is, the riding remains a safe-NDP seat. It should be noted that NDP MP Jean Crowder lives in Duncan, and would find herself outside of her riding, as she is being re-districted into the new South Cowichan riding.

Saanich—Gulf Islands
One of the ridings the Conservatives have been targeting through the redistribution, is this riding, located north of Victoria. It is currently held by Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. She defeated a Conservative cabinet minister in 2011, and the Tories want this riding back. And, at 117,000 people, the riding had to be shrunk. And no matter how you slice it, the riding is going to have to lose some “Green” friendly areas, as the Conservative part of the riding is all along the eastern coast, and therefore cannot be easily lobbed off and given to another riding, as across the strait from the riding's east coast lies the United States. And sure enough, the area that the commission decided to remove was a strong anti-Conservative area in the southwestern corner of the riding, around Swan Lake in Saanich (I say anti-Conservative because the area goes for whatever party that has the best shot against the Conservatives in the riding be it the NDP in 2006, the Liberals in 2008 and the Greens in 2011). May shouldn't get too scare though, because she did win the riding by 10%, and losing this small area probably wont cut into her lead too much. It does shrink the riding down to 108,000 people.

British Columbia's capital riding is only seeing a minor change to its border. Presently, the riding 111,000 which is only slightly too large. The commission decided to move the Victoria West neighbourhood out of the riding, perhaps because it is geographically isolated from the rest of the riding- despite still being within the City of Victoria. Victoria West shares a land boundary with (and is for all intents and purposes an extension of) the District Municipality of Esquimalt, but it is only connected to the rest of Victoria by two bridges over the Gorge Waterway. This change brings the population of the riding down to 104,000 which is actually slightly less than the provincial average.

Victoria is the safest riding on Vancovuer Island for the NDP. Removing Victoria West might make the riding more NDP friendly, as the area did have two polls that went Conservative in 2011. However, it was also home to some polls where the Tories got less than 20%, so all in all no change, really.

The western suburbs of Victoria are growing quite rapidly, and has meant that the current riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has become the most populous on Vancouver Island with a population of 132,000. To shed enough people, the commission decided to remove the sparsely populated western 6/7ths of the riding, basically the area west of Colwood along the Juan de Fuca Strait. The riding thus becomes more suburban in nature, losing its exurban and rural communities to the proposed new riding of “South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca”. In addition, the newly named riding of Esquimalt—Colwood acquires the neighbourhood of Victoria West from the riding of Victoria, and the area around Swan Lake in Saanich from Saanich—Gulf Islands. These changes bring the population of the riding down to 108,000.

In 2011, the riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca featured a razor thin race where the NDP won by 0.63% of the votes. The proposed changes in the riding do not make the situation any clearer. Most of the area being lost is NDP friendly, but there is some Conservative parts of the riding going as well. In addition, the area around Swan Lake in Saanich will probably vote NDP next election, as Elizabeth May would no longer be their NDP. What's left in this riding includes the very strong NDP area of Esquimalt against the more Conservative suburban areas like Colwood, View Royal and Saanich.

South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca
This is the new riding being proposed in Vancouver Island. It consists of the area around City of Duncan, the District Municipality of North Cowichan, part of Ladysmith and the area along the Juan de Fuca Strait west of Colwood. These two areas are an interesting combination for one riding, as they have little to do with each other. They are only connected by one highway, the Trans-Canada which also forms part of the eastern boundary. This strange combination might just be unavoidable however, the geography of the region has meant that there are quite a few limitations for the riding. The total population for the riding would be 106,000.

It appears that this new riding will probably vote NDP. Both parts of the riding have some strong NDP areas, but there are some Conservative pockets as well. Also, if NDP MP Jean Crowder decides to run in this riding, it will boost the party's chances.

One problem I have with this riding is the name. Why would use the name “South Cowichan” to refer to an area that includes a major municipality by the name of “North Cowichan”. I would prefer to have this riding named “Juan de Fuca—Cowichan”.

At present, the NDP is polling quite high in B.C. These new proposed borders could help facilitate a near sweep for the party in Vancouver Island. At the very least, they will probably gain the new riding of South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca, but it might come at the expense of losing the Esquimalt riding that they currently hold. Most of the proposed ridings on Vancouver Island appear to be marginal, meaning a good election for the Tories might mean winning almost all the seats there as well.

As for the boundaries themselves, I would definitely shrink the proposed ridings a bit so that Powell River remains out of Vancouver Island North. Most of the proposed ridings are still over sized, so why include an area that is not already in the region? I would also maybe try and re-configure the Victoria suburban ridings so that Juan de Fuca and South Cowichan are lumped in together. But, even if changes are made, two regions with little to with each other would have to be lumped together anyways.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rothesay, New Brunswick provincial by-election

In keeping on the subject of New Brunswick, I musn't forget to mention that the province is having a by-election tomorrow. All eyes will be on the voters in the riding of Rothesay, a suburban riding north of Saint John. The riding has been sitting vacant since its previous MLA, Progressive Conservative Margaret-Ann Blaney resigned a month ago to become CEO of Efficiency New Brunswick.

It is precisely that appointment that Tory Premier David Alward made that has become the issue of the campaign. Efficiency NB is crown corporation, and Blaney's appointment is seen as blatant patronage. However, aside from that, Alward is still fairly popular in the province and Rothesay is a traditional Tory seat.

Riding profile
Location of Rothesay

As mentioned, the riding is located north of the province's largest city, Saint John, and is mostly a suburban riding. Most of the riding consists of the suburban City of Rothesay, but it also consists of of a small part of Saint John (Dury Cove) and parts of neighbouring rural parishes. Politically, the riding has mostly voted for the Tories in its history. Since 1974, the area has voted for the PCs 7 times, and the Liberals just three times. The Liberals only held the seat from 1987 to 1999. The Liberals happened to win every seat in the province in 1987, and benefited from a split in the right wing vote in the 1991 and 1995 elections, when the populist Confederation of Regions Party ate into the Conservative vote. Since 1999, the Tories have usually receive around 50% of the vote in the riding.

MLAs since 1974:
  • J.B.M Baxter, Prog. Cons. (1974-1987)
  • Ms. E.L. Jarrett, Liberal (1987-1999)
  • Mrs. M.-A. Blaney, Prog. Cons. (1999-2011)

Political geography
Poll by poll map of the 2010 election in Rothesay (Map by MaxQue from the Forum)

Tory strength in this riding is fairly wide spread. In the 2010 provincial election, they won every single poll in the riding. The Tories were the strongest in the north side of the city, while the only polls where they did not get 50% of the vote were in the south, less built up parts of the city. In this election, the Liberals were their main opponent, but they didn't win any polls.

Federally, in the 2011 election, the Tories picked up all but one poll in the area. The Liberals finished 3rd in the polls in Rothesay, while the NDP finished 2nd. The only non-Tory poll was won by the NDP. This one poll is located on the northern border of the city, and was won by the NDP by just one vote. The area consists of some small apartment buildings. This north end of the city was still dominated by the Tories, but the NDP did fairly well there too, breaking 30% in most polls. The Tories did less well in the south again, where the Liberal candidate did well.

Provincial result in Rothesay (2010)
Federal result in Rothesay (2011)

The Tories are running a local lawyer and businessman by the name of Ted Flemming. Flemming comes from a long line of politicians. His grandfather, was former Premier Hugh John Flemming, while his great grandfather, James Kidd Flemming was also the Premier of the province. His main rival will likely not be the Liberal candidate, but the NDP candidate, Dominic Cardy. Cardy is the leader of the provincial NDP, and wants to get into the Legislature as soon as possible, considering his party lacks a single seat there. The Liberals are running retired police officer John Wilcox.

Can Cardy win?
NDP vote in Rothesay (2011 federal election)

It was a surprise to me that Cardy decided to run in Rothesay. He's not from the region, and it's not the most NDP friendly area (wealthy suburban). However, the Liberals egged him on suggesting he should do it, and he did (now they're calling him a carpetbagger). Now, some have suggested he might just have a shot to win the riding. The NDP, which has little history in the province, has not won the area before, not federally or provincially. The closest the NDP has ever come to winning the riding was back in 1987, when their leader at the time, George Little ran in this seat and won 32% of the vote. While the NDP only won one poll in the area in the 2011 federal election, they can be comforted with the fact that they won a respectable 27% of the vote in Rothesay, and finished 2nd. That means there is some base to work from.

While I do think the NDP will have an historic night tomorrow, I do not think Cardy will be able to win the seat. The province is just not NDP-friendly, and Rothesay is the wrong place for the party to start a beachhead in. I think the Tories will still come out on top, with around 45% of the vote. The NDP I think will get no more than 40% of the vote. With the race being between the Tories and NDP, the Liberals will be squeezed to less than 15%.

Polls close at 8pm Atlantic (7pm Eastern).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

New Brunswick boundary commission proposal announced

Current boundaries (Elections Canada)

On Friday, the New Brunswick federal riding boundary commission released its proposal as to how the province will be divided up over the next decade. New Brunswick automatically gets 10 seats, and with a population of 750,000, that means each riding ideally should get about 75,000 people.

New Brunswick has seen a fairly slow growth in recent years, and there has been migration from its rural areas to its cities, especially Moncton and Fredericton. The major changes the commission proposed reflected this migration. However, for the most part, the boundary commission offered few changes in its boundaries. While many ridings have proposed name changes, all of the ridings will have the same character as before, and no ridings would change parties based on their proposal. The most populous ridings will still remain the most populous, while the least populated ridings will remain as so. The commission did not try to maintain population equality at all, but instead opted to fix minor issues, and only made significant changes where they had to, by making the Moncton and Fredericton ridings smaller. They even left one riding (Miramichi) below the 25% allowable variance, making the excuse that the riding is too large and isolated which is an amusing excuse for such a small province.

Proposed boundaries

The following is an analysis of the proposed changes and how the political make up of each riding would change:

At 78,000 people, Acadie—Bathurst has slightly more than the provincial average, but the commission decided to add the Village of Belledune to the riding. This adds just 1500 people to the riding, so it is not a huge change in the population. The decision was done for community of interest reasons. Presently, Belledune is in the riding of Miramichi but it is geographically separated from the rest of the riding. You actually have to drive through Acadie-Bathurst to get to the rest of Miramichi. It makes sense to add it to Acadie-Bathurst.

Interestingly, despite falling in the Conservative riding of Miramichi, Belledune voted NDP in 2011, which will bring it inline with the very strongly NDP riding of Acadie-Bathurst. Much of that support is for the person (MP Yvon Godin) rather than the party, but it is clear his strength and the strength of the party has leaked into Belledune as well as other areas bordering the riding. Politically, this minor change does not effect the partisan make up of the riding.

The present riding of Beausejour also has 78,000 people, making it at present an ideal riding size for the province. However, due to large growth in the Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe riding, Beausejour needed to be altered to take in some of this growth. Presently, Beauejour contains 18% of the city of Dieppe which is mostly in the Moncton riding. The commission proposed uniting Dieppe into one riding, by putting it in Beausejour to help alleviate the over sized Moncton riding. Dieppe is also very Francophone, which means its a good fit for the largely Francophone Beausejour riding.

Uniting Dieppe makes the riding too big, so some territory had to be lost. The commission proposes removing the parishes of Harcourt, Huskisson and Weldford, and the First Nations community of Richibucto Indian Reserve No. 15 and giving them to neighbouring Miramichi riding. This is actually a fairly minor change as the combined population of those four places would be just 3000 people. The changes give the riding a population of about 92,000. This is barely within the 25% allowance as it is 17,000 people more than the provincial average. The commission seems to be okay with this however, although I wouldn't allow for it myself. The riding name is proposed to be Beausejour—Dieppe to incorporate the new territory it has gained. However, I think keeping the name “Beausejour” would be fine, since it's just a general name for the region anyways.

Politically, Beausejour remains as the only remaining Liberal riding in the province of New Brunswick. The 2011 election was a close one for them, as they won it by just 2500 votes over the Conservatives. Luckily for the Liberals, the proposed changes strengthen the riding for them. Dieppe is a Liberal city, and its addition to the riding only helps them. Also, the small part of the riding lost to Miramichi voted Conservative in 2011.

With 93,000 people, the riding of Fredericton is a full 18,000 people bigger than the provincial average. To compensate for this, the commission proposed removing most of the rural parts of of the riding and giving them to neighbouring ridings. This is good for community interest, because rural areas are very different from urban areas. Fredericton's high growth rate has meant that it will get to have a more urban riding now.

The new Fredericton riding will basically just consist of the City of Fredericton and some of its suburbs, namely Oromocto and New Maryland. The proposed riding will have a population of 78,000- which is still too large, but not far off the provincial average. My biggest issue with the proposal is that it still contains some rural areas and their inclusion is somewhat random, and it gives the riding a strange barbell shape. The commission has split up the Parish of Burton without much explanation as to why, and it is giving the riding its strange shape. Perhaps if the rest of the Parish was removed, the riding would be closer to the provincial average, would be more urban, and it would have a more compact shape.

The proposed changes to the riding make Fredericton far more competitive. At present, the riding is a safe Conservative seat. However, all of the territory that is proposed to be removed is strongly Conservative. What is left is still a Conservative riding, but one that might go NDP if the Liberal vote in Fredericton collapses. The south side of Fredericton voted NDP in 2011, and if the Liberal vote collapses into the NDP, the riding will become a tossup.

The current riding of Fundy Royal has a population of 73,000 which is just under the provincial average. The commission proposes making some minor changes to the riding to alleviate some continuity issues as well as to take in some of that territory lost from Fredericton.

The commission proposes moving uniting the Town of Quispamsis in this riding which currently has a small part in the riding of Saint John. It also proposes removing the Parish of Simonds from the riding as it is geographically isolated from the rest of the riding, having its only road link go to Saint John. It also would gain the Parish of Studholm and the Village of Norton from New Brunswick Southwest thanks to Studholm's polling station being moved to Fundy Royal and the desire to unite the divided Norton village. The commission also proposes adding the Parishes of Canning and Chipman and the Village of Chipman from the Fredericton riding into this new riding. The total changes give the riding a population of 79,000 people, not too much bigger than the provincial average.

The proposed changes are good ones, but my biggest complaint is the new proposed name. There is no reason to change the name of the riding under these proposed boundaries. Adding “Quispamsis” to the riding name is unnecessary because most of Quispamsis is in the riding already, and the town is not already in the name at present. Removing “Royal” from the name is unnecessary as well. The “Royal” part of the name refers to the counties of of Kings and Queens, which will still be part of the riding. The new parts of the riding around Fredericton are in Queens County, which means it even more “royal” than before.

Politically, the new territories gained by this riding are all Conservative, which will not change the character of this safe Conservative seat. The riding also loses one NDP poll from Simons Parish.

At 61,000, Madawaska—Restigouche is the 2nd least populated riding in the province, but still within the 25% allowance of the provincial average. The commission only decided to make a minor change to the riding, by giving it the Parishes of Colborne and Durham from the riding of Miramichi. These areas are geographically isolated from the rest of Miramichi, and have no business in that riding. This is a good move by the commission. This change adds 1500 people to the riding making it a tiny bit closer to the provincial average.

Politically, the new parishes added to the riding voted NDP in 2011. Madawaska—Restigouche was a tight Conservative-Liberal race in 2011, but the NDP did win some polls in the riding, mostly in the eastern part of it close to where the new additions are. The Conservatives did finish 2nd in the area though, so it might make the riding ever so slightly more Conservative.

New Brunswick's least populated riding is Miramichi, which presently sits at 52,000 people. This area has fallen on hard times recently, and is also the riding in the province which saw the biggest decline in its population between 2006 and 2011. It's well under the 25% population allowance, but the commission has decided that they are okay with this. They feel that due to the area's isolation, and being geographically the largest riding in the province, it qualifies as being a “special circumstance” and entails falling outside the allowance. I'm not sure I buy that, since New Brunswick is such a small compact province that no part of it is that truly isolated. It's not even the furthest riding from New Brunswick's largest cities, as it is not far from Moncton.

The commission did make some minor changes to the riding, resulting in only a slightly larger population. First off, the riding does lose its communities on Chaleur Bay, as they are geographically isolated from the rest of the riding. It offsets this by losing some southern parishes to the new riding of Beausejour—Dieppe, and by uniting the community of Upper Miramichi in one riding. Presently, part of that community is in the riding of Tobique—Mactaquac.

While the commission makes for some compelling arguments as to why Miramichi should exist with such a small population, I do not think they are strong enough arguments to offset its size. The riding may be isolated, but it wont be the end of the world if it took some territory out of the over sized proposed Beausejour—Dieppe riding. Perhaps uniting all or parts Kent County in Miramichi would work, considering that was what the riding was like in the 1990s.

Politically, this safe Conservative riding would become slightly more Conservative. The areas lost along Chaleur Bay voted NDP last time, while the new parts of the riding in Kent County being taken from Beausejour voted Conservative, despite being in a Liberal riding.

The present riding of Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe is the most populated riding in the province, and is way oversized at 99,000 people. The commission proposed removing all of Dieppe from the riding, and giving it to the Beausejour riding. This change brings the population of the riding down to 81,000, which is still oversized, but better. One wonders if they could reduce the riding even more. Currently, the Town of Riverview is only partly in this riding, so if it is already divided, why not take out even more? After all, the riding is the fastest growing in the province, and will soon once again be oversized. The City of Moncton itself has a population of 69,000 which while small, might not be a bad size for a growing riding. Food for thought.

According to the map and proposed riding description, the new riding also gains part of Moncton Parish, but the commission didn't mention this at all in their report.

The proposed changes are good news for the Conservatives. The Tories won the riding in 2011 for the first time in 27 years. They won it with 36% of the vote thanks to a 3-way vote split with the Liberals and NDP close behind. The changes would remove Dieppe from the riding, which is the strongest Liberal part of the riding, taking away much of the Liberal support. Dieppe also had some strong NDP pockets, weakening them as well. What's left is an NDP friendly urban core and a strong Conservative suburban region in the city with only a few pockets of Liberal support.

New Brunswick Southwest
This rural riding at present has a population of 64,000, and is the third least populated riding in the province. Despite being on the small size, the commission only proposed minor changes to the riding. Firstly, the riding gains some rural parts of the Fredericton riding (parts of Lincoln and Burton Parishes). The riding also loses some territory, as Studholm Parish and the Village of Norton are removed. Also, the riding loses a suburban part of the Parish of Kingsclear. Due to community of interest reasons, the area has more to do with Fredericton, and thus the commission believed it belongs in that riding. These changes bump the riding up to a population of 66,000.

New Brunswick Southwest is a messy riding. While it is based in the southwestern corner of the province, it has a random appendage that stretches more than half way across the province. The commission's proposal didn't change much. While the riding is fairly compact, it just doesn't seem like it is one coherent community of interest. I also hate the name, but what else do you call a riding that seems to be the left over riding after every other one was carved out? Maybe “Charlotte—Lower Saint John Valley”. The name is not a new name that this commission has proposed (just kept), it was a name given to the riding twice, after two previous names proved to be duds. It was renamed after being called “Charlotte” in 2000 and then again in 2006 after the last commission attempted to name it “St. Croix—Belleisle”.

Politically, the proposed riding does not change much. Both the territories gained and lost voted Conservative in 2011. The riding will remain a safe Conservative seat.

Saint John
Presently, the riding of Saint John has a population of 85,000, which is 10,000 more than the provincial average. The commission seemed to be okay with this, proposing only minor changes to the riding. It loses all of its territory in Quispamsis, as that town would now be united in one riding (Fundy—Quispamsis). It also gains the Parish of Simonds, as that area was geographically isolated from its riding. These changes actually increase the size of the riding to 86,000.

These minor changes do little to change the political character of the riding. All of the area lost voted Conservative, while most of the area gained voted Conservative (except for one poll that voted NDP).

Tobique—Saint John River Valley
The current riding known as Tobique—Mactaquac presently has a population of 69,000 which is not that much smaller the provincial average. The commission proposes moving some of the rural parishes of the Fredericton riding (Maugerville, Northfield, Sheffield) and the village of Minto into the riding as Fredericton is now too large for them, and it makes sense for these areas to be in a rural riding. Also, the parts of the riding in the community of Upper Miramichi have been removed as the commission sees fit to have it all in one riding (Miramichi). The new riding would have a much more ideal population size, with 74,000 people.

These are decent changes, but my beef is with the new name. The commission totally removed “Mactaquac” from the name, despite that area still being in the riding. In its stead, the commission has elected to replace it with “Saint John River Valley” because of the new territory around Fredericton that would not be encompassed by either the names Tobique nor Mactaquac. The problem with this new name is that this new territory doesn't actually border the Saint John River, although it may be in its valley. The River flows right through most parts of the riding, so it might make just as much sense to rename the riding “Saint John River Valley”, or better yet “Saint John Valley”. Now that has a ring to it. But, if that doesn't suffice, expanding the current name to “Tobique—Mactaquac—Sunbury” would do just as well, as it would encompass the new territory gained by the riding.

Politically, not much changes in the riding as both the territories gained and the territories lost are Conservative, and this riding remains a safe Conservative seat.

I am none to pleased with the New Brunswick commission's proposals. While the Newfoundland commission was bold and made some necessary major changes, the New Brunswick commission tried to skirt changes as much as possible, leaving some ugly looking ridings, that vary too much in size. I do plan on making an alternate proposal to this map, as I am not a big fan of it.

You can read the commission's proposal here.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Quebec provincial by-elections today

Qubeckers in 2 provincial ridings will be heading to the polls today in provincial by-elections in the ridings of Argenteuil and LaFontaine. This will be the first set of by-elections since the riding of Bonaventure went to the polls six months ago. A lot has changed on the Quebec political scene in that period of time.

Since last December's by-election, we saw the folding of the right wing Action Democratique party, as party members voted to dissolve the party and join the upstart Coalition Avenir (CAQ) party led by Francois Legault. While the CAQ led most polls back in December, they did not run a candidate in Bonaventure and have since dropped back to third place. This Spring's student protests have also thrown a wrench into the Quebec political landscape, and have put doubts into Liberal Premier Jean Charest's ability to govern.

Nonetheless, Charest's Liberal Party continues to lead most province wide polls- albeit neck and neck with the separatist Parti Quebecois. Both parties are polling in the low 30s, with CAQ about 10 points behind. The left wing Quebec Solidaire party, the biggest supporters of the student strike in the province is hovering around 10%, not much different from where they were in December. In the last six months, the fortunes of the Liberals and the PQ's have been boosted to the expense of the CAQ.

Officially, these two by-elections may prove next to meaningless, as it is likely that Charest will call for a general election in the Fall, meaning the two new elected MNAs will not serve in that capacity for long.

Location of Argenteuil (in red)

Argenteuil has been sitting vacant since its last MNA, David Whissell resigned from the National Assembly back in December. The riding is a rural riding located in Western Quebec. It straddles the Ottawa River, located about half way between Montreal and Gatineau. Its main population centres are Lachute, Brownsburg-Chatham and Saint-Colomban.
The Liberals have won this riding in every election since 1966, and it has never voted for the PQ. However, that doesn't mean the riding is a super safe Liberal seat. In the 1995 Quebec sovereignty referendum, the “No” side won the riding by a narrow margin of just 267 votes. The referendum race in Argenteuil was closer than the province as a whole. In addition, Argenteuil has had some close election results. In 1998, Whissell had won the seat by just 148 votes over his PQ opponent. In 1994, the Liberals won the riding by just 1802 votes over the PQ. And, in 1976, the Liberals won the seat by just 1,275 votes over the PQ. The riding has seen a lot of fluctuation depending on the election, as the Liberals have also done very well here, such as the by-election that first elected Whissell in 1998 where he won 57% of the vote.

List of MNAs:
1) S.R. Bellingham, Cons. (1867-1878)
2) R.G. Meikle, Liberal (1878-1881)
3) Wm. Owens, Cons. (1881-1892)
4) W.J. Simpson, Cons. (1892-1897)

5) W.A. Weir, Liberal (1897-1910)
6) Jn. Hay, Liberal (1910-1912)

7) H. Slater, Cons. (1912-1916)
8) J. Hay, Liberal (1916-1925) 2nd time
9) J.-L. Saint-Jaques, Cons. (1925-1927)
10) Georges Dansereau, Liberal (1927-1934)
11) G.-E. Dansereau, Liberal (1934-1948)

12) W.M. Cottingham, U.N. (1948-1966)
13) Zoel Saindon, Liberal (1966-1978)
14) Claude Ryan, Liberal (1979-1994)
16) R.L. Beaudet, Liberal (1994-1997)
17) David Whissell, Liberal (1998-2011) 

Argenteuil in the 2008 provincial election. Credit: MaxQue at the Forum

The riding is quite diverse politically and linguistically. The rural and Anglophone communities in the riding's west and south are where the Liberals are the strongest. The Liberals are also strong in the ski resort of Morin-Heights in the riding's northeast. The more Francophone communities in the north and east of the riding are the strongest areas for the PQ. The PQ's strongest region in the 2008 election was in the fast growing Montreal exurban community of Saint-Colomban in the riding's eastern most extremity. The riding's largest community, Lachute is mostly Liberal, but with significant PQ pockets.

Federally, the riding is located in federal riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. In the 2011 election, the riding was caught up in the NDP wave the swept most of the province. Most of Agenteuil went NDP, except for a few pockets. The Tories won two polls in the western part of Argenteuil, both in the rural Anglophone municipality of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge. Provincially, this region is one of the most Liberal parts of the riding. The PQ also won a handful of polls, all of them in Lachute. The NDP was strongest in the most Francophone part of Argenteuil, in the north and east. 

Due to history, and the fact that the Liberals are still leading in most polls, their candidate, Lise Proulx is probably best positioned to win the riding. Proulx, a native of Lachute is a former press attache for David Whissell and is the former director of the Lachute Hospital Foundation. She may face her strongest challenge not from the PQ, but from the CAQ candidate, Mario Laframboise who is the former Bloc Quebecois MP for the area. He had been unseated in last May's federal election by the NDP. The PQ are running Roland Richer, a local school director. The Greens are also looking to do well here, as they are running their leader, Claude Sabourin. QS is running Yvan Zanetti a self employed volunteer firefighter and craftsman beekeeper.

If it weren't for Laframboise, I would say this riding would finally be ripe for a PQ pick up. However, I reckon a lot of separatist supporters might vote for the former Bloquiste, splitting the separatist vote. This will allow Liberal Lise Proux to be the winner, becoming the first female to represent Argenteuil in Quebec City. I predict she will get about 40% of the vote, Laframboise will get 30%, while Richer will get 23%.

Location of LaFontaine in Montreal.
LaFontaine has been sitting vacant for just over a month, when its MNA, Tony Tomassi resigned. He had been a Liberal, and a cabinet minister before being kicked out of caucus two years ago amidst a scandal and was forced to sit as an independent.

LaFontaine is an urban Montreal riding, located in the far north end of the city. It consists solely of the neighbourhood of Riviere-des-Prairies. The riding is named after Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, the first Prime Minister of the Province of Canada. It is one of many provincial ridings in Quebec named after someone instead of named after its geography. (A better name for the riding would obviously be “Riviere-des-Prairies”)

The riding is extremely Liberal, having voted that way consistently since 1985. While that may be fairly recent, it is the recent strength of the Liberal Party that makes this riding so strong for them. The Liberals have won this riding with at least 55% of the vote since 1988, and won at least 60% of the vote in the last three elections, including getting 69.8% of the vote last election. 60% of riding voters supported the “no” side in the 1995 referendum. Before the Liberals won the riding, the PQ had held it, something that would seem next to impossible these days.

List of MNAs:

1) Louis Beaubien, Cons. (1867-1886)
2) J.-O. Villeneuve, Cons. (1886-1887)
3) Chas. Champagne, Liberal (1888-1890)
4) J.-O. Villeneuve, Cons. (1890-1897) 2nd time

5) D.-J. Decaire, Liberal (1897-1904)
6) J.-L. Decaire, Liberal (1904-1912) 
7) J. W. Levesqe, Liberal (1912-1919)
8) J.-O. Renaud, Cons. (1919-1931)
9) Jos. Filion, Liberal (1931-1935)
10) F.-J. Leduc. Cons. (1935-1936); U.N. (1936-1939); Liberal (1939-1948)
11) Omer Barriere, U.N. (1948-1956)
12) Leopold Pouliot, U.N. (1956-1960)
13) Jean Meunier, Liberal (1960-1966)
14) J.-P. Beaudry, U.N. (1966-1970)
15) Marcel Leger, P.Q. (1970-1985)
16) J.C. Gobe, Liberal (1985-2003); Independent (2003) 

17) T. Tomassi, Liberal (2003-2010); Independent (2010-2012)
LaFontaine in the 2008 provincial election. Credit: MaxQue at the Forum

The riding has a large Italian population, which is one reason why the Liberals are so strong, as Italians tend to vote Liberal. In 2008, the Liberals won all but four polls in the riding. Even though their support is strong across the riding, their strongest area is the southern half of the riding, south of Boul. Rodolphe Forget. The PQ won three of its four polls at the northern end of the riding in the new development of Pointe-aux-Prairies.

The federal results in LaFointaine were more interesting in the last election. LaFontaine is mostly located in the federal riding of Honore-Mercier, with its southern end in the riding of Bourassa. Boul. Rodolphe Forget was a strong divider in LaFontaine in the 2011 election. North of this street went mostly NDP, while south of the street went Liberal.

The Liberals are running party president Marc Tanguay. The PQ candidate is Frederic St-Jean, who is an adviser for the Société d'habitation du Québec. The CAQ is running lawyer Domenico Cavaliere. The Greens are running Gaetan Berard, who ran federally in Honore-Mercier in 2008. Finally, QS is running social worker Sebastien Rivard.

Unless hell freezes over, it is pretty clear that the Liberals will be the winners in Lafontaine. I predict they will get a reduced majority of the vote in the riding, perhaps 58%. The PQ will likely get around 25% of the vote, while the CAQ will get about 12%.

Polls close in both ridings at 8pm Eastern.