WHEREAS the Alberta Electoral Boundary Commission (AEBC) submitted their final report for review and adoption by the Alberta Legislature on October 19, 2017, which recommends consolidating electoral boundaries in rural areas of the province that will result in three fewer seats in rural Alberta; and
WHEREAS Alberta’s population has increased by 14.8% (or 553,500 people) since the last electoral boundary review in 2010. Based on the latest average constituency size of 46,803, this is the equivalent to 11.8 new constituencies; and
WHEREAS the AEBC has been tasked with reviewing Alberta’s electoral boundaries in accordance with legal precedent and specifically, Supreme Court of Canada’s case Reference re Prov. Electoral Boundaries (Sask.),  2 SCR 158 which states, “purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s. 3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se, but the right to ‘effective representation’ ”; and
WHEREAS effective representation is impacted by many factors, including the relative weight of individual votes, the geographic characteristics of the constituency, the accessibility of the elected official to the electorate, the diversity of “communities” within the constituency, and others; and
WHEREAS the future sustainability of rural Alberta is contingent on the ability of rural residents to be effectively represented in Alberta’s legislative assembly; and
WHEREAS the consolidation of seats in already geographically large rural constituencies will further compromise the effective representation for rural Albertans within the impacted constituencies, as well as weaken the overall rural perspective within the Alberta Legislature; and
WHEREAS the Board of Directors of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties has concluded that the right to “effective representation” has not been satisfied by the final recommendations of the Alberta Electoral Boundary Commission;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Alberta amend section 13 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act to establish up to three new electoral divisions to accommodate the need for effective representation of Alberta’s growing urban population, while not sacrificing current rural representation; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) urge the Government of Alberta to prioritize effective representation for rural Alberta by not approving a reduction in the number of constituencies in rural Alberta; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the AAMDC request the Government of Alberta to not implement the Alberta Electoral Boundary Commission’s final recommendations until the following principles are prioritized:
The Alberta Electoral Boundary Commission (AEBC) has released its final report on proposed changes to Alberta’s provincial electoral boundaries. The report was submitted to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly where it will be introduced for a motion to be accepted and debated, and will likely result in changes to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act. Though the final report has been released, the findings are not final until Electoral Boundaries Commission Act the has been amended.
The recommendations are of concern as they include a reduction of three rural constituencies in order to add three urban ridings in Calgary and Edmonton, they add an urban-only constituency where none existed before outside of Calgary & Edmonton, they increased the size of many of the already very large rural constituencies and they divided some rural municipalities into multiple constituencies where they were not divided before. The AEBC did recognize that rural Alberta’s population is growing but indicated that the population of Alberta’s urban areas are growing at a faster rate and therefore, due to the AEBC’s inability to recommend adding constituencies, justified redistribution of seats.
The AAMDC’s input to the AEBC included a recommendation to not make geographically large constituencies larger and maintain constituency structure that combine both urban and rural areas to include a balance of urban and rural populations. The AAMDC recommended use of urban-rural blended constituencies so more MLAs have both rural and urban responsibilities and understood the rural-urban dependency and interconnectedness so important to their communities & regions. In their final report, however, the AEBC indicated that blended constituencies were avoided when possible so as not to combine “disparate communities of interest” under the jurisdiction of one MLA. This justified their final recommendation of an urban-only constituency where none existed before in the Grande Prairie region. The AAMDC feels this view of urban-rural blended constituencies demonstrates a lack of understanding of how Alberta’s regions work and only amplifies urban versus rural rhetoric that is harmful to urban/rural relations.
Another AAMDC recommendation to the AEBC focused on avoiding the division of rural municipalities into multiple electoral divisions when possible. The AAMDC understands that by their nature, rural municipalities cover expansive areas and in many cases perfectly aligning rural municipal boundaries with electoral boundaries is impossible. The AEBC’s final report indicates that no city or town (urban municipality) in the province was divided among two electoral divisions unless the city’s size required it. However, the report acknowledges that splitting rural municipalities was a more common practice, although the committee “attempted to minimize the circumstances in which a county or school division contains parts or all of more than one constituency.” This said, there are rural municipalities now recommended to be in four constituencies where they current exist in one or two.
The AAMDC Board is disappointed that the AEBC did not accept key recommendations put forward by the AAMDC, municipalities, and other rural constituency advocates during the consultation phase. The AAMDC Board is concerned that this dilution of rural representation will ultimately lead to weakened rural communities and a loss of the rural voice in Alberta’s democratic institutions.
It is important to note, however, that the AEBC did not have the jurisdiction to consider expanding the number of constituencies, as the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act requires the number of constituencies to be 87. Some aspects of the Act were amended in 2016, prior to the review process, but the Government of Alberta chose not to allow for an increase in constituencies.
Given that Alberta’s population has increased by 14.8% since the last electoral boundary review in 2010, an increase of 553,500 people or the equivalent of almost 12 constituencies based on the latest average constituency size, increasing the number of ridings by up to 3 is a viable option to mitigate a loss of rural representation and overly large geographic constituencies while acknowledging that most of the population increase has occurred in urban areas. The AAMDC’s submission to the AEBC did not address this option as it was out of scope for the review, but the Government of Alberta itself still can amend the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act to enable the creation of additional constituencies. Increasing the number of constituencies from 87 to 90, for example, would allow for the creation of the additional urban seats proposed in the AEBC report, while no longer requiring consolidation of the rural constituencies. A 3.5% increase in constituencies (87 to 90) is still well below the increase 14.8% increase in population since the last review.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Justice and Solicitor General
The Electoral Divisions Act was amended in December 2017 to reflect the Legislative Assembly’s resolution respecting electoral divisions. The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) resolutions relating to the total number of rural electoral divisions and adoption of new criteria could be considered when the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act is next amended.
It is reasonable to anticipate that, in future, the government of the day will take into account several factors when determining whether to change the number of electoral divisions. The government may agree that the total number of electoral divisions should increase from 87 to 90, as recommended by the AAMDC and that the applicable criteria should be reviewed; however, it is important to note that the current criteria were adopted following thorough consideration of the Supreme Court of Canada and Alberta Court of Appeal Reference cases.
The Legislative Assembly could consider adopting budgetary changes that could assist members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) in larger electoral divisions. For example, the commission suggested that one of the mechanisms for addressing rural concerns regarding voter access to their MLA would be to establish satellite offices in larger electoral divisions. The commission noted that constituents could be encouraged to access their MLA by making an appointment or making contact by telephone or email in preference to the traditional expectation that rural MLAs be readily available to their constituents at political and social events held across the electoral division.
The government response to the resolution indicates that no additional changes were made or will be made to electoral boundaries and that the changes were codified in legislation in December 2017. As such, the resolution is assigned a status of Intent Not Met. RMA will continue to advocate for effective rural representation in future reviews of Alberta’s electoral boundaries, and work with urban MLAs to ensure issues important to rural Albertans are understood and acted upon in Alberta’s legislature.