Cries, groans and revision of the electoral map

Each revision of the electoral map, every two general elections, gives rise to the same concert of groans and cries of indignation, which degenerates into psychodrama.

In 2010, the reaction of Deputy Prime Minister Nathalie Normandeau was so virulent that it caused the resignation of the Chief Electoral Officer, also president of the Electoral Representation Commission, Marcel Blanchet, whose proposal was only aimed at compliance with the provisions of the law as interpreted by a judgment of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Blanchet’s crime was to plan the disappearance of three constituencies, in Beauce, in Bas-Saint-Laurent and in Gaspésie, where the population was declining, to create three new ones, in Montérégie, in the Laurentides and in Lanaudière.

Mme Normandeau spoke of an “attack on the very foundation of our democracy.” His colleague from Municipal Affairs, Laurent Lessard, called it a “betrayal of the regions”. The Charest government even proposed a bill that suspended the powers of the commission and provided for the development of new criteria for the redrawing of the map.

In 2017, the proposal to create a new riding (Ville-Marie) in the center of the island of Montreal, by amputating Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques from part of its territory to merge it with part of Westmount–Saint -Louis, had provoked an outcry. Public opinion was united behind Manon Massé, whose re-election could have been compromised. Instead, we merged Mont-Royal and Outremont.

This time, it is again a question of eliminating a constituency in Gaspésie, and another in eastern Montreal, for the benefit of the Laurentians and Centre-du-Québec. Unsurprisingly, those who risk seeing theirs disappear or be disproportionately enlarged do not see it that way.

In Gaspésie, the member for Bonaventure, Catherine Blouin, or her colleague from Gaspé, Stéphane Sainte-Croix, both CAQ members, would find themselves unemployed, while the PQ member Pascal Bérubé would inherit a constituency of 50 municipalities straddling two regions administrative.

In Montreal, the CAQ member for Anjou–Louis-Riel, Karine Boivin Roy, should find a new job in 2026. Vincent Marissal (Rosemont) and Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, whose political territory would also be changed, are not happy either.

Prime Minister Legault dismissed the idea of ​​adding ridings from the outset. The National Assembly has 125 deputies for a population of 8.3 million inhabitants, or on average one deputy for 67,200 voters, while there are 124 in Ontario, a province of 15.4 million inhabitants, that is to say one deputy for 123,400 voters. Already, Quebec parliamentarians are much better paid than their Ontario colleagues; it would be embarrassing, not to say indecent, to increase their number.

Of course, the defense of great democratic principles is not always devoid of more personal motivations. Changes to riding boundaries can very well result in a victory or defeat. One could even imagine circumstances in which they could determine which party would form the government.

The right to vote guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms presupposes that the weight of this vote is substantially the same for each voter, regardless of where they reside, so that there is “effective representation of voters,” determined the Supreme Court of Canada in 1991. Demographic evolution, however, makes it increasingly difficult to reconcile this requirement with the desire to preserve the weight of regions and the cohesion of natural communities.

The law provides that the number of voters in a constituency cannot be more than 25% lower nor higher than the average of all constituencies, but the Electoral Representation Commission has the power to make exceptions, the most notable being that of Îles-de-la-Madeleine, with its 11,159 voters. There are, however, limits to multiplying exceptions without compromising the equality of the weight of everyone’s vote. As of April 30, six constituencies had a number of voters 25% higher than the average and eight had a lower number, the Îles-de-la-Madeleine excluded.

Even a map that ensures perfect equality in the number of voters in each constituency would not eliminate the distortions attributable to the first-past-the-post system, which initially compromise “effective voter representation.”

The best solution would obviously have been to introduce the proportional voting system. But Prime Minister Legault preferred to live with the periodic psychodrama of redistribution rather than renounce the advantages of a system which accentuates inequalities for the benefit of his party.

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