EDMONTON—Representatives of Public Interest Alberta urged members of the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission to take action to resolve serious problems with Alberta’s current constituency boundaries.
Larry Booi, Chair of Public Interest Alberta’s Democracy Task Force, stated that Alberta’s current system has dramatically undermined fundamental democratic principles of political equality and representation by population. “Our province unfortunately has allowed substantial, unnecessary, and unwarranted departures from representation by population,” said Booi, “to such an extent that it can be described as unfair variance by design.”
Booi stated that in the 2015 provincial election constituencies ranged in approximate size from as few as 15,000 eligible voters to as many as 46,000. “This means that in 2015, voters in Fort McMurray-Conklin had three times the ‘voting power’ of voters in Calgary-South East. One Alberta MLA speaks for three times the number of voters represented by another Alberta MLA. This is not consistent with political equality.”’
Dr. Don Carmichael, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Alberta and Democracy Task Force member, stated, “The problem begins with allowing far too much initial variance (25% above and below the average,) which is then made worse over time by subsequent population shifts, often involving increases in rapidly-expanding urban and suburban settings and declines in rural areas.”
Carmichael added that the current unacceptable situation originated with an attempt to address the problems of ensuring effective representation in large rural ridings with sparse populations. “The justifications for these disparities were better suited to earlier times: when there were few telephones, fewer paved roads, no television, and – crucially – no internet. These limitations no longer apply. Today, constituents in the furthest reaches of the province have the capacity to communicate with their representatives as quickly and easily as their urban counterparts.”
Public Interest Alberta Executive Director Joel French urged the Commission to consider two basic approaches to remedying the situation and ensuring political equality through representation by population.
“First, we are advocating that the Commission make political equality the top priority by limiting variances to no more than five per cent above or below the population average per constituency. This would allow for reasonable flexibility to address local municipal and geographic elements without seriously compromising representation by population.”
“Second, we are proposing that the varying needs of voters in urban, rural, and suburban constituencies are best addressed by providing MLAs with more support to provide effective representation, rather than by undermining the principles of political equality. We are calling on the Commission to endorse this view and to advise the Legislative Assembly of the importance of providing this additional support to further strengthen our democracy.”
For more information, visit pialberta.org/ebcsubmission