An independent panel is redrawing the map of Newfoundland, drastically realigning federal electoral boundaries.
Tuesday morning in Whitbourne, a panel of three commissioners held its first public hearing on the Avalon to hear from people about the proposed changes.
Under the proposed electoral map, Labrador and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl stay the same, but everything else changes.
The west coast and central portion of the island essentially become two broad, north-south strips, with a third strip running from the bottom of the Burin Peninsula up to Bonavista.
The riding of Avalon gets smaller, losing most of the Bay de Verde peninsula to the newly formed Bonavista-Burin-Trinity district.
The new map essentially tries to tackle two problems, most importantly shifting boundaries to reflect Newfoundland’s population, which is increasingly concentrated on the Avalon, especially in St. John’s.
The proposed ridings also eliminate the ungainly district of Random-Burin-St. Georges. MP Judy Foote currently represents a chunk of southern Newfoundland stretching all the way from Random Island and Grand Bank to Port aux Basques and Stephenville.
“It follows commercial links and administrative links,” said Justice Keith Mercer, who heads up the redistribution panel. “If you look at school boards, hospital boards, transportation links, where people avail of all sorts of commercial and government services, it seemed to make sense.”
In Whitbourne, less than 10 people were at the meeting, and a couple of people who were scheduled to make presentations didn’t show up.
The biggest issue was the Bay de Verde peninsula, which Heart’s Content Coun. Fred Driscoll said would cause major problems for communities in his region.
“This is just adding us in the mix down with the Burin Peninsula and the Bonavista Peninsula who have their own unique set of problems that we don’t have,” he said. “We’re dealing with Conception Bay and that area, and that’s a different community centre, a different ballgame altogether.”
Dennis Brown, who was the retuning officer for Avalon in the last election, also made a presentation, talking about the “administrative nightmare” that was formed by the riding boundary running through the middle of Conception Bay South. He said the commission has eliminated the problem, but created a new one by running the new boundary through the middle of Paradise.
Former union leader Fraser March also made a presentation in Whitbourne Tuesday.
The commissioners have a certain amount of wiggle room to shift boundaries based on what makes the most sense for local communities and economic regions, although they aim to get as close to 73,505 people per riding — the division based on the province’s population, and seven ridings.
During the session, Mercer seemed interested in the feedback he was hearing, and ready to look at tweaking the boundaries.
In extreme cases, such as Labrador, they can make exceptions; only 26,720 people live in that riding. Whatever decisions the commission makes, people will have to live with them for the next 10 years; the redistribution coincides with the census.
The commissioners will hold a public meeting in C.B.S. today and St. John’s Thursday.
More information can be found at www.elections.ca.
This is a corrected version