The debate over electoral reform in Canada is mostly about ridings in major cities

It’s perhaps not surprising that the uproar over a political redraw — one that, if approved by the federal government, would alter boundaries of political ridings in at least 12 of the country’s 15 largest cities — is centering in major urban centers. The cities the new boundaries most affect are Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City.

The long-term concern among some observers of Canadian politics is that the new boundaries — which, if accepted by the federal government, would change ridings in at least 12 of the country’s 15 largest cities — would lead to so-called gerrymandering, or the design of electoral districts to favor one party.

The concern isn’t unfounded. Gerrymandering has long been an issue in Canadian elections, particularly since Canada’s adoption of first-past-the-post voting. Since 1951, elections have been held by districts as devised by the official party. In that time, the Conservative Party has won all but two of the 261 elections fought under that system. Part of the reason is the extent to which Canadians believe that first-past-the-post not only unfairly distributes power within the country, but also doesn’t appropriately recognize its geographic diversity.

The proposal unveiled in late August has some version of a three-part redistricting process. In the first round, political party supporters would get to choose where the ridings they believe would best reflect their views are created — though this process, known as ranked-ballot voting, would not take place until after next May’s federal election. If voters still favoured one particular riding in the first round, then the new boundaries would be drawn accordingly.

And for supporters of the proposal, some of whom see it as necessary to maintain local representation across the country, the third stage would call for the newly drawn boundaries to be reviewed and re-worked once every two elections — once in Ottawa and once in each province or territory, in a different order.

But to a certain group of Canadians — particularly conservative-leaning ones — the system leaves some voters wary of potential irregularities in the new parliamentary maps, and elsewhere in Canadian elections.

“I don’t trust them, and it makes me ill, frankly,” said Jason Kenney, the former Alberta premier who is now leader of the United Conservative Party, which was born out of the split between the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party. “The Conservatives with our new electoral system need to be led by conservatives; we shouldn’t be taken over by ideologues who are never going to move beyond fundamental and small-c conservative principles.”

The complaints come at a time when Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who was elected in May, faces both well-organized efforts by disgruntled Conservatives to oust him and rivals on the left from Canada’s third party, the New Democratic Party, that have made conciliatory overtures to conservative voters. Kenney, however, has rejected such overtures.

“They’re perfectly comfortable asking for our blood,” Kenney said of the New Democrats. “We’re perfectly prepared to give it to them.”

The other complaint has to do with transparency. Many Canadians are concerned, if not outright furious, that the new political boundary plan was introduced without much public input, including input from municipalities. The province of Quebec — where opposition to the plan began when it was floated in August — has also lodged its own complaints about lack of transparency. The “chaos” accompanying the process, Quebec’s minister of municipal affairs and housing, Martin Coiteux, told the CBC last week, should be “an embarrassment to all those who promoted” the plan.

Jane Taber, a freelance journalist in Toronto who blogs at Quebec Journalical, has been among those leading public criticisms. Taber, whose article about the redrawing, “Here for the Proposal: Don’t Fix It, Change It,” has been featured in various websites, television news reports and publications, was inspired to write the column after she observed that city councils across the country were receiving no formal notice about the proposed new parliamentary boundaries, despite their importance to urban representation.

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