FREDERICTON – The ongoing movement of people from the countryside to cities is not only shifting the province’s demographics, but also giving rural voters more representation in the New Brunswick legislature, observers say.
As rural ridings empty out, the remaining voters in sparsely populated areas carry more weight at the polls than voters in swelling urban ridings.
“As cities get bigger, this is one downside of urbanization because political representation has not kept up with the population outflow,” says Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based public policy think-tank.
New Brunswick’s electoral map was redrawn in 2005 based on Statistics Canada census data from 2001.
Although provincial legislation allows for a 10 per cent difference in the number of voters in each riding, the rural exodus over the last decade has left some ridings with half the voters of some of the growing urban constituencies.
For example, the 7,239 registered voters in the largely rural Tantramar riding that encompasses Sackville have both greater say in who gets elected to the legislature and more representation than the 14,489 registered voters in Dieppe Centre-Lewisville.
“There is a significant problem in every province including New Brunswick and that is that rural voters actually have a stronger say,” Cirtwill said. “In other words, fewer rural voters are represented by more politicians and that is happening in every legislature in Canada.”
Ron Armitage, the manager of Voter Information Systems for Elections New Brunswick, said the province’s electoral boundaries will be redrawn in the near future.
Given Statistics Canada is gearing up to do a census this year, Armitage said the best timing for redistributing electoral boundaries would be once that data is available in 2012.
“Demographics have changed considerably since the latest boundaries were drawn up and even more since the 2001 census, which is where we got our data,” he said.
However, Kevin Lacey with the Atlantic Canada branch of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says rather than redrawing the electoral boundaries, the province should reduce the number of ridings altogether.
“We’re simply over-governed with too many politicians,” he said.
“If you add municipal politicians into the mix, we have more politicians per capita than anywhere else in the country.”
Lacey said reducing the number of MLAs wouldn’t solve the deficit crisis facing Atlantic Canadian provinces but it would “create a culture of savings.”
“If we’re serious about cutting health and education, politicians shouldn’t be spared from those cutbacks, especially if we already have too many politicians for our population,” he said.
Reducing the number of legislators is not unheard of in New Brunswick. When electoral boundaries were redrawn in 1995, the province went from 58 MLAs to 55.
The Atlantic provinces have more provincial representatives per capita than the rest of the country.
While Ontario has on average one MLA for every 132,106 people, in New Brunswick there is one MLA for every 13,659.
Prince Edward Island has the highest number of MLAs per capita, with one provincial representative for every 5,242 people.