All votes for MLA deserve an equal weight

One vote should have the same weight wherever you are in Alberta.

And whether you are 15,000 voters in South Edmonton or Central Alberta, your votes should count towards electing the same amount of MLAs in the legislature. Currently, there is one riding with 15,000 and another with 46,000 voters, both electing one MLA. With modern technology the outdated rationale used to justify such enormous variances is unacceptable.

With all parties holding seats in rural and urban areas, this is not a partisan issue, but an issue of fairness. I have no doubt that fair representation in the legislature will have a profound impact on ensuring that Edmonton receives the investment in Education that corresponds to our unique challenges. With 30% of our students being English Language Learners, higher percentages of Special Needs Students, and 6000+ new students over the last two years, we need to make sure that our educational needs are given the weight they deserve in provincial expenditure.

On Monday January 16th, I had the opportunity to present as Trustee for Ward F to the Electoral Boundaries Commission. The commission is in the process of reviewing the areas, boundaries, and names of ridings across Alberta. As they note, Alberta’s population has grown 20% over the last eight years.

I touched on a few key points that I wanted to share:

  • One vote in Alberta should count the same, wherever it is cast: Many urban Albertans have been denied a fair voice in affairs affecting their lives. I was told in the past by MLAs that despite having thousands of Edmontonians in new neighbourhoods, it was hard to award new schools to the cities because of the disproportionate influence that the rural MLAs held over budgets and capital planning decisions.
  • The Electoral Boundaries commission should use the most accurate data: Statistics Canada is ready to unveil the data from last year’s census on Feb. 8th but we should also take into account other materials such as the demographic study by Edmonton Public Schools that forecasts thousands more new residents moving to Edmonton communities. If there are to be variances, let us carefully consider the rationale and take into account future growth projections.
  • Complexity Matters: while great geographic distances can be a challenge for some rural MLAs to serve vast constituency areas, elected officials in urban areas also have to take into account complexity and diversity such as socioeconomic status or linguistic barriers. Serving as an elected official in an urban setting can be enormously challenging and connecting with thousands and thousands of constituents who bring unique challenges must be taken into account.
  • Technology Matters: As an elected official, 95% of my correspondence is via email, telephone, and on rare occasion, meetings. It is easier than ever to call your MLA, send correspondence, attend telephone town-halls, and engage through other means and channels. I would be fully in favour of adding additional office supports to help MLAs from larger geographic constituencies engage their communities just as I would want to ensure multi-lingual translators were available to help those with other complexities to engage with their constituents as well.

I ultimately come back to the idea of how much is one vote worth? Imagine if Alberta was one riding and both you and I received one ballot. But for some reason because I lived in a lower populated area, I received an additional ballot. Or two. Or three. That would not be fair.

All politics are local, and ultimately MLAs are profoundly invested in demonstrating to their constituents that they have achieved results for their local needs. This advocacy has a tremendous effect on provincial spending and I’ve seen it most apparent in the inequalities around meeting the needs of our growing city.

If you want to learn more about this issue, here are three links:

Alberta Diary:

Guest Post: Five things you need to know about Alberta’s latest Electoral Boundaries Commission

Daveberta.ca:

I actually disagree with Dave Cournoyer on the 10% threshold and think 5 percent would be a much more reasonable threshold:

When the commission does receive the latest data, I would like to see all electoral districts proposed for the 2019 election be within the 10 percent above or below the average population of all the proposed electoral divisions.

I would also like to see the commission keep the number of special districts to a minimum. I would prefer that no district fall below 25 percent of the average, as increased funding should be allocated to MLAs in geographically larger rural ridings for additional offices, staff and travel costs. But political necessity will likely lead to the existence of one or two of these special exceptions.”

I also note that Public Interest Alberta has posted their Electoral Boundary submission online as well.

Dr. Don Carmichael, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Alberta and Democracy Task Force member, stated, “The problem begins with allowing far too much initial variance (25% above and below the average,) which is then made worse over time by subsequent population shifts, often involving increases in rapidly-expanding urban and suburban settings and declines in rural areas.”

Carmichael added that the current unacceptable situation originated with an attempt to address the problems of ensuring effective representation in large rural ridings with sparse populations. “The justifications for these disparities were better suited to earlier times: when there were few telephones, fewer paved roads, no television, and – crucially – no internet.  These limitations no longer apply.  Today, constituents in the furthest reaches of the province have the capacity to communicate with their representatives as quickly and easily as their urban counterparts.”

I would be curious to hear your thoughts and I’m sure so would the EBC:

michael@michaeljanz.ca