COLUMN: NDP's fortunes take a hit in federal riding re-draw

The term “gerrymander” was coined in 1812 by the Boston Gazette to describe the manipulation of electoral riding boundaries to benefit one party over another.

It was a response to then-governor Elbridge Gerry’s re-draw of the state senate election map to benefit his party, a map so bizarre one riding was said to resemble a salamander. Get it? Gerry-mander.

Fears of map manipulation have been around as long as there have been ridings to win or lose.

And federal politicians are apt to cry the “G” word every 10 years when the Electoral Boundaries Commission re-draws the maps, which this year includes creating 30 new ridings, six of them in B.C.

If the proposals are approved, the lines in Burnaby and New Westminster will change significantly.

In Burnaby, a new riding will be created (Burnaby South), and the current Burnaby-Douglas riding will be trimmed in Burnaby and a chunk of North Van will be stapled onto it to create Burnaby North-Seymour.

With the re-draw, New Westminster will be consolidated into one riding. Today it’s split in two, sharing one riding with Coquitlam and the other with Burnaby. The changes will create a single riding that includes all New West and a slice of east Burnaby.

So who will benefit, and who will lose from these moves?

The NDP’s Kennedy Stewart won Burnaby-Douglas by just two per cent of the vote in 2011. He says if everyone voted the same again in the newly imagined Burnaby North-Seymour, he’d lose by seven per cent to the Conservative candidate. North Van tends to be much bluer than Tommy Douglas’s old stomping ground.

Score: Tories, 1; NDP -1.

In New West, the new riding would easily go to the NDP.

But the future of NDP MP Fin Donnelly (currently New Westminster-Coquitlam and Port Moody) will be more uncertain should he run in the new riding that drops the chunk of lefty New West, and adds Anmore and Belcarra.

Donnelly only won by 4.5 per cent in 2011, and the additions to his riding come from Tory MP James Moore’s riding, where the Conservatives stomped the NDP by a 26 per cent margin in 2011.

Score: Tories, 2; NDP, - 2.

The electoral commission’s mandate is to aim for about 105,000 residents in each riding, while seeking to respect natural and historic boundaries.

Population growth explains the creation of Burnaby’s new riding—Burnaby South’s main population centre being the Metrotown area. Is this area more Conservative leaning? Will Burnaby will finally get a Tory MP? A re-vote today would give NDP the seat (but demographics in the riding are shifting).

So then: Tories, up 2 and the NDP down 1.

Overall in the two cities, the Tories seem to benefit most.

But is there manipulation going on?

In each province the electoral commission has three members. It is chaired by a judge appointed by the chief justice of the province, and the two members are appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Are the commissioners non-partisan? I have no doubt.

They are B.C. Appeal Court Justice John E. Hall, former schools superintendent Stewart Ladyman and J. Peter Meekison, chancellor of Royal Roads University.

Do people participating in the public process seek to influence the commissioners’ decisions in a way that would favour one party over another? Of course—they’d consider themselves remiss if they didn’t.

MPs have a few weeks to voice their complaints, and then the new map is set to be approved this summer.

I doubt local NDP members will be celebrating.

• Chris Bryan is the editor of the NewsLeader.


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