CFA begins push for rural-urban ridings in electoral map

TORONTO — Canada’s largest farm lobby is taking the unusual step of encouraging member provincial organizations to try to influence the redrawing of political constituency boundaries underway by Elections Canada.

At its semi-annual summer meeting July 25, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture urged members to apply to make presentations before electoral boundaries commissions that have been organized to redraw constituency boundaries in time for the 2015 election.

But at a time when the relative size of the rural population is declining and its influence in the House of Commons declines too, the point of presentations by farmers should not be to recommend more rural dominated ridings to give farmers and rural areas more parliamentary voice, CFA business risk management and farm policy director Scott Ross told the meeting.

It should be to recommend that more ridings mix rural and urban voters when the new electoral map is drawn.

CFA members should encourage the electoral boundaries commissions in their own provinces “to keep as many ridings as possible ‘mixed ridings’ with both urban and rural composition,” he said. “Mixed ridings force MPs to be more engaged in both rural and urban issues and ideally recognize and support the interdependence between the two.”

He said the instinct of electoral boundary commissions is often to create ridings with common interests that clump rural, urban or suburban voters together in separate ridings with shared political interests. “However, this further distances agriculture and rural issues from the concern of many MPs.”

Riding boundaries typically are redrawn every decade after the national census to reflect population shifts across the country. The last census was conducted in 2011.

The next constituency redesign will reflect not only growing Canadian population and the shift from urban to rural, but also the fact that the Conservative government passed legislation to add 30 more seats to the 308-seat House of Commons to give more MPs to fast-growing Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

To maintain its relative strength in the Commons, Quebec also will receive four more seats although its population does not warrant the increase.

Most of the new seats will be in expanding urban and suburban areas, diminishing the rural political influence.

However, the CFA analysis is that mixing rural and urban voters together is better than isolating rural and farm residents in political ghettoes with diminishing influence.

In most provinces, hearings are slated for next autumn but an application to appear at public hearings must be filed with provincial commissions by late August.

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