The proposed urban and rural electoral districts, including the proposed name changes, were overwhelmingly rejected in the submissions made to the Commission. The reasons for this unfavourable reception are discussed below. At this point it need only be said that in light of that criticism the Commission reconsidered its Proposals and returned essentially to the existing electoral districts as proclaimed in the Representation Order of 1996. Modifications have been made to those electoral districts where population movements of the past decade threatened to undermine proximate voter parity among constituencies.
In light of the decision essentially to maintain the status quo, the Commission concluded that the electoral districts of Saskatchewan should continue to bear their existing names. Those electoral districts, and their populations and deviations from the electoral quotient based on the 2001 census, are as follows:
*A bill changing the names of these electoral districts, respectively to DesnedthéMissinipiChurchill River and SaskatoonEagle Creek, passed the House of Commons but not the Senate before prorogation in 2002.
In its Proposals for the Province of Saskatchewan, the Commission offered as its reasons for reconfiguring the province’s electoral districts into rural and urban categories the following statement: "The Commission is satisfied that despite the economic links between rural and urban populations, they nevertheless have differing communities of interest that must be addressed." It noted that in the eight existing "mixed rural-urban" electoral districts, four centred on Saskatoon and four on Regina, voting control is held by residents of the cities. The Commission’s opinion was influenced by the continued movement of population (as evidenced by the 2001 census) out of the country and into city and suburban locales.
This demographic trend added substance to the criticism heard from presenters to the preceding Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Saskatchewan. In response to the then innovative combined rural-urban electoral districts concept, presenters responded in the following manner: "We feel it will be difficult for a Member to represent both sides, whether that Member be from a rural area or a large urban centre"; "This [proposal] gives the rural population the impression that their voice is being swallowed up by the cities"; and "Rural residents or urban residents alike, their concerns and their lifestyles are very much different."
In light of these comments and the continuing movement of population off the land and into the cities, the Commission was unprepared for the near-unanimous view of presenters in 2002 that the status quo should be maintained. The Commission was also unprepared for the radical difference in views of these presenters from those of the presenters to the previous Commission. "I see no problem with the ridings as they are structured. I have not seen any written evidence, or oral evidence for that matter, of Saskatoon feeling they are not represented because the urban is being overshadowed by the rural or vice versa. I think a mix of the two is welcome." And again: "Representing both urban and rural folks is not a problem or an obstacle that must be overcome. The problem simply does not exist."
How to explain this reversal of attitude? One suggestion heard in different guises was that the last decade had witnessed "a conceptual change" in urban-rural relations in Saskatchewan. Rather than deepen an urban-rural cleavage, as critics predicted would follow from the adoption of the Commission’s Proposals, there was "a need," said a Regina presenter, "to do everything possible to bridge this gap, if we are to have a healthy polity in this province, both federal and provincial." It was, in the words of another, a "Saskatchewanism" that "the interaction and interdependence of the rural and town populations is high."
Because the redrawing of boundaries upsets existing patterns social and economic, as well as electoral and necessitates a recasting of structures and organizations, it is not unusual at the time of redistribution to hear pleas that communities of interest be protected or to hear complaints that they are violated. In fact, the Commission heard both the pleas and the complaints in response to its Proposals which would see all of Saskatchewan south of Churchill River and outside of the cities of Saskatoon and Regina divided into seven large and primarily rural electoral districts. These new electoral districts, said presenters, ignored (or, equally dubious in their minds, combined) historic trading patterns and traffic flows.
There was no doubt that the Proposals fed this criticism. For instance, Saskatoon’s three new seats did not include the fast-growing suburban communities that are near it. Short of creating mixed or "spoke-like" seats emanating from the city, the suburban communities had to fall within the rural electoral districts the Proposals envisioned. Saskatchewan has too few seats in the House of Commons for them to be allocated exclusively to urban and suburban, and to rural areas.
It is that reality the small number of electoral districts into which Saskatchewan’s vast southern half must be divided which explains the view, frequently expressed to the Commission, that Saskatchewan’s situation is unique in Canada. Elsewhere in Canada, in the northern reaches of most provinces, there are sparse populations located in enormous geographical areas, but the populations are clustered in communities accessible in a relatively short time to the member of Parliament by small aircraft. By contrast, in Saskatchewan’s vast Cypress HillsGrasslands or SourisMoose Mountain electoral districts, the farming and ranching population is distributed over the whole area. Communication, of whatever description, presents logistical and financial difficulties. Yet the need for communication is great. The Commission was told a number of times that rural citizens place great importance on face-to-face contact with their member of Parliament. Unlike their urban counterparts, who have the alternative of approaching government departments and agencies directly to seek information or press a claim, the rural resident depends more often upon the personal service provided by the member of Parliament.
Individuals appearing before the Commission repeatedly cautioned against major changes to the boundaries if population changes did not warrant them. They said voter confusion and voter apathy often accompanied change, and was tolerable only if there was a demographic reason for it. Even then, they argued, parity of voting power had to be balanced against parity of access (itself in part a product of geography), or what the Supreme Court of Canada in Reference re: Provincial Boundaries termed "effective representation."
The prevalent view expressed by the presenters to the Commission is that in Saskatchewan, mixed rural and urban electoral districts ensure balanced representation. Saskatoon and Regina are not metropolises like Toronto or Vancouver because their growth comes from the surrounding countryside. Rural depopulation is accommodated in mixed electoral districts as the population shifts to one of the two cities. According to one submission: "Saskatchewan may be unique in Canada in that our rural agricultural economy has more of an effect on our urban centres than it does in any other area." Thus, unlike many other provinces, Saskatchewan does not yet have large urban centres with voters whose interests are markedly different from those in rural areas. That consideration, as well as concern that the benefits of reverting back to rural and urban electoral districts as they existed before 1994 would be outweighed by the costs and adjustments necessitated by another substantial change in the boundaries in less than ten years, led the Commission to abandon its Proposals.
But the Commission cannot simply adopt the status quo and leave the electoral districts as currently configured. Although the population shift from rural to urban has not been as dramatic in the past few years as it was when the issue was considered by the previous commission, in the view of the Commission, this shift will continue to take place. The Commission has maintained the status quo where possible, but it had to change some boundaries to reduce discrepancies in voter parity that would otherwise arise from the continuing population shift. As a balanced compromise of voter parity and communities of interest, including the increasing difficulty of effective representation in rural electoral districts extending over large geographic areas, these boundary changes have been kept to a minimum.
The Commission is of the view that the process under which electoral boundary adjustments are made could be improved upon. Unfortunately, the governing legislation requires a commission to initially function in a partial vacuum because detailed proposals must be made before the commission has the benefit of current submissions from the public. In the opinion of the Commission, especially where significant changes are proposed, a commission should be permitted to make only a statement of intention before hearing submissions from the public. This would tend to ensure that submissions would be received from all interests involved. Once detailed proposals are published, there is a considerable risk that voters who agree with them will see no need to make submissions supporting them.
For this reason, the Commission has concerns that the submissions heard by it may not be representative of the residents of Saskatchewan as a whole because voters in agreement with a proposal tend not to make representations supporting it. However, the Commission is of the view that the hearing process mandated by the legislation should be respected and that its decision should not be inconsistent with the submissions that it heard.
The Commission is impressed by the caliber of the submissions received. Voter apathy is a growing problem and the Commission appreciates the willingness of the presenters to take the time to appear at the hearings and make their views known respecting the Proposals. The Commission has fully considered the submissions received by it and has revised its Proposals as indicated in this Report.
The legal descriptions of these electoral districts and the resulting maps are attached to this report.
Dated at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, this 19th day of November, 2002.
George W. Baynton
David E. Smith
F. William Johnson
CERTIFIED copy of the Report of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Saskatchewan.