Bill 42 is Dwight Ball's fault. There is no nice way of getting around it, so it might as well be said. It was his idea to eliminate 8 of the province's 48 seats - or 17% of our representation. Why? The reason given originally was it was good for our democracy. How? No answer was given to that obvious question. Then the governing PC's grabbed a hold of the idea moving legislation (Bill 42) to redistribute the electoral boundaries by 10 seats before the next election, which must be called by November of this year. The NDP screamed blue murder that the whole thing was unnecessary, and rushed to the point of being perverted. This time the NDP are right.
To start with, Bill 42 is a lot like Bill 29. You could say they're sister bills aimed at attacking democratic values in the province. Bill 29 took aim at the information that would be allowed to be released to the public. The media and opposition, including the Liberals, were incensed by it - that got the public stirred up as well. There was a great 4 day filibuster, but in the end it was passed. People hated it, and it became a death stone firmly strapped around the Tory's necks. Now Bill 42 aims to reduce representation in the House of Assembly. A further stripping away of democratic protection from a government that has been reviled for secrecy and subsequently unanimously distrusted. However, in Bill 42 the PC's had a partner - Dwight Ball and the Liberal opposition.
On a political level, the Tory's made Ball an offer he couldn't refuse. After all, it was he that championed the idea in the first place. Given that Ball couldn't say it was a bad idea, the Liberals wrapped themselves around suggestions the bill was aimed at delaying the election til 2016, and that Labrador should retain all of its 4 seats no matter what. The result, however, is as if the Liberals would have gone to bed with the Tories on Bill 29. The entire issue has stained the Liberals badly - not the least of which would be their reputation in rural Newfoundland. By insisting Labrador keep all its seats, and knowing the Avalon would not lose any of its seats, the Liberals condemned rural Newfoundland to take the entire hit of the seat reduction - or almost 50% of its elected MHAs. By crossing this rubicon the Liberals managed to lose what is normally lost during governing years - the moral high ground. Gone are the days of standing for democracy during Bill 29. In are the days of the dark of the night backroom deal to knife rural Newfoundland in the back.
On the legal level, both the Tories and Liberals are in some serious trouble. By insisting that Labrador keep its seats to avoid the perception it was being dealt an unfair hand, and thereby avoid fanning the already fanned separatist flames in the "Big Land", the Liberal and Tories pushed their "democratic reform" into the unconstitutional realm. The Supreme Court of Canada Reference on Electoral Boundaries , 1991, is the benchmark decision that restricts electoral boundary changes so that "effective representation" remains in place. The decision makes the following findings:
" Relative parity of voting power is a prime condition of effective representation."
"Under the Charter, deviations are subjected to judicial scrutiny and must not be such as to deprive voters of fair and effective representation."
"Equally important, each vote must be relatively equal to every other vote; there cannot be wide variations in population size "
"Once an independent boundaries commission is established, it is incumbent on the legislature to ensure that the Commission was able to fulfill its mandate freely and without unnecessary interference. "
"If the right to vote is to be of true significance to the individual voter, each person's vote should, subject only to reasonable variations for geographic and community interests, be as nearly as possible equal to the vote of any other voter residing in any other constituency. Any significant diminution of the right to relative equality of voting power can only lead to voter frustration and to a lack of confidence in the electoral process."
" It emerges therefore that deviations from absolute voter parity may be justified on the grounds of practical impossibility or the provision of more effective representation. Beyond this, dilution of one citizen's vote as compared with another's should not be countenanced. I adhere to the proposition asserted in Dixon,supra, at p. 414, that "only those deviations should be admitted which can be justified on the ground that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole, giving due weight to regional issues within the populace and geographic factors within the territory governed."
Essentially, the Court found that it is constitutional to have variances between different districts in population, but that variation had to be minimal - somewhere between 10-25%. However, in the case of Labrador, it will retain all four seats with a population in the 26,000 range. That means approximately 6000 people per district. The PC's and Liberals want a population base for the other districts, including the rural districts of the Island, of about 13,000 people. That is almost a 100% difference. Nowhere in the Court's decision did a 100%, or even something close to it, population difference in districts approach being fair and effective representation. Bottom line, no real good reasons were given for Labrador to keep all its seats while rural Newfoundland loses 50% of its seats. It was a political deal made for expediency, not a constitutionally thought through decision.
This of course leaves the government wide open to a constitutional challenge of the boundaries commission decision based on the four seats made safe for Labrador. Rural Newfoundland needs and deserves as much legislative protection and representation as Labrador. In fact, it may need it more. Rural Newfoundland is under constant attack by natural economic forces, demographic forces, and as we can see here, political forces. We have become accustom to assaults on our democracy, and general ignoring of rural Newfoundland's problems with the PC government. Most of us weren't expecting to be stabbed in the back by the Liberals before they even reached power. This stings. It smells. It has the stench of "Liberal Tory same old story". I've been hearing that for months now from people. Now I've seen it first hand. One thing is certain, the Liberals under Ball, and the Tories are in agreement on the respect due rural Newfoundland. Just don't come to the door saying you are looking out for us.
Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)