Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


When I first moved to Edmonton in 1997, every single sitting MLA from the city was either a Liberal or a New Democrat, while every single sitting MLA from outside of Edmonton was a Tory. 'Redmonton,' they called it--an island of progressiveness in the middle of the deep blue sea. The provincial scene these days is actually a little more colourful than that--a few Liberal MLAs have seats outside of Edmonton, while the occasional Tory has actually managed to penetrate the city limits. But with eleven Liberals, four New Democrats, and only two Tories currently representing my city in the provincial legislature, it's pretty clear the overall trend hasn't changed.

The city council is, if anything, even more progressive. For years, Michael Phair was the most high-profile and the most universally beloved councillor, and he was not only a true progressive, but also one of the first openly gay politicians to be elected in Canada. Though Phair has now retired, he was replaced in the last election by Ben Henderson (husband of well-known Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman), in a very close race with yet another progressive, aboriginal activist Lewis Cardinal. The new council also contains a twenty-eight-year-old rookie whose campaign was run by young Liberals and New Democrats, and get this: only a single right-wing member.

I would imagine that some of my readers--those who don't know much more about Edmonton other than the fact that it's in Alberta--are surprised by all this. And now you're scratching your heads and adding up the numbers and thinking: Wait a minute. How the heck can it be possible for a city that elects nothing but Liberals and New Democrats at the provincial and city levels to suddenly elect a whole slew of Tories to Ottawa? Well, there are two answers to that question. The first has to do with riding boundaries, and the second has to do with vote-splitting.

There are eight federal ridings with the "Edmonton" prefix:

These eight fall into two categories: those that are actually fully within the boundaries of the city of Edmonton, and those that extend well beyond the city limits and into full-on Tory blue territory. The "rurban" ridings in the latter category are Edmonton-Leduc, Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont, Edmonton-St. Albert, Edmonton-Spruce Grove, and Edmonton-Sherwood Park, and it's only here that we see the portion of the riding that's rural swallowing up the city vote to achieve Conservative vote totals that look like the rest of the province. But in the actual urban ridings of Edmonton Centre, Edmonton-Strathcona, and to a lesser extent Edmonton East, you can see the city's local progressiveness shining through in the vote totals, even if vote-splitting allowed the Conservative to come up the middle in every case.

The assumption in most of the national media seems to be that if this new bill passes, the Tories would have automatically bought themselves five additional Alberta seats. But if some of the new ridings turned out to be within the city limits of Edmonton, or if a reconfiguration turned out to push the current riding boundaries more toward the urban core (at least one of which seems inevitable without some serious gerrymandering involved), Edmonton's federal representation could finally start coming closer to the way the people of this city actually vote.

I, at least, will be watching this one very closely.


Sarah F said...

So you're saying Linda Duncan could actually win Edmonton Strathcona this time? I'm for that!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Heh. Well, it would take a few years for the new riding boundaries and new ridings to be created, and I'm pretty sure Harper's government doesn't have much more than a few months left in its tenure. It's not going to affect the next election, in other words. But it could affect the one after that. And that effect could potentially be very interesting, at least in Edmonton.

Besides, after taking 33% of the vote last time (while Jaffer's vote stagnated in an election where the Tory vote skyrocketed everywhere else), Linda and the NDP actually have a decent shot at winning this time anyway. So take heart!

bza said...

I think Edmonton-Spruce Grove might also fall into this more rural kind of split as well.

Edmonton's situation also reminds me of the splits in Regina and Saskatoon, as well as the splits in Oshawa too.

Is it just me or is there a national jerrymandering conspiracy against strong NDP ridings? :p

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Whoops, yeah, I meant to add Edmonton-Spruce Grove (which is waaaay more Spruce Grove than Edmonton--just look at that map!) to the "rurban" list as well. I've edited the post to reflect that.

And I won't go so far as to call it a conspiracy, but it sure does seem to have negative effects on the NDP, doesn't it? And in Edmonton at least, Liberal voters have been at least as unfairly represented as NDP voters. Argh, I really, really hate this voting system.

Wheatsheaf said...

With or without the election boundary changes, Edmonton Strathcona may be ripe for the picking. Rahim "I am never in my riding" Jaffer would make an excellent house husband to Helena.

As to the anti-NDP conspiracy - unfortunately we did it to ourselves in Saskatchewan. The NDP could have had a safe seat in Regina and Saskatoon as per the interim report on redistribution, but we wanted a fighting chance in more seats...

Greg said...

I am happy for Edmonton, but this new bill screws Ontario. The Conservatives are scared to death of rep. by pop. If we had elections based on the actual settlement patterns in this country, well, let's just say the Conservatives are acting rationally by trying to suppress rep. by pop.

catherine said...

In the current system, BC, Alberta and Ontario, are all noticeably underrepresented. Now the Conservatives want to implement a new system, which would put BC and Alberta on roughly equal footing with Quebec, and leave Ontario essentially unchanged (in fraction of seats relative to fraction of population.) I guess the Conservatives figure they aren't going to get any seats anyway in the areas of Ontario which have seen all the population growth. I hope my MP (NDP) stands up for his Ontario constituents.

Anonymous said...


Over at Koby's blog, I have devised a proposal that may help to address your concerns with regards to the addition of seats. Knowing my preference, it will involve changing Canada's Parliament into a unicameral legislature using mixed member proportional representation (MMP).

Ontario will get 32 more seats to move up to 140.

Quebec gets 25 more seats to move up to 100.

BC gets 18 more seats to move up to 52.

Alberta gets 10 more seats to move up to 38.

This would be an addition of 86. Half will be elected by constituency, half will be by province wide closed lists. Point of contention, but this is the best solution.

So it will be 70-70 for Ontario.

So it will be 50-50 for Quebec.

So it will be 26-26 for BC.

So it will be 19-19 for Alberta.

This will be coupled with the abolishment of the Senate. The seats in the other provinces stay the same with half of them elected by closed lists. There may need to be an adjustment for Manitoba and Nova Scotia, but the over-representation in PEI stands as a sore thumb (I suggest, 2 constituency-2 list under the new system).

Josh Gould said...

There may need to be an adjustment for Manitoba and Nova Scotia, but the over-representation in PEI stands as a sore thumb (I suggest, 2 constituency-2 list under the new system).

Why would an adjustment be necessary for NS? Last time I checked, Sask had three more seats for an additional 50,000 people or so.

Anonymous said...


I may as well make this correction here based on the numbers from All Politics is Local.

Saskatchewan and NS will now get the same number of seats 14 (7 constituency and 7 list).

catherine said...

The Liberal Party has issued a release on this. I still haven't seen or heard anything from the NDP on whether voters in Ontario should have equal representation. Has anyone else seen anything?

Mr. Rota said that, unlike the Conservatives, the Liberal Party is committed to honouring the principle of representation by population that no province suffers from a significant under-representation in the House of Commons.

daveberta said...

Interesting post, IP.

Because I'm a giant political nerd, it's important that I point out that in 1997 there were three Alberta Liberal MLA's from outside of Edmonton...

- Colleen Soetart - Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert
- Gary Dickson - Calgary-Buffalo
- Ken Nicol - Lethbridge-East

I'm pretty sure that this was it for non-Tory MLAs from outside Edmonton in 1997...

catherine said...

In light of Greg's comment, I was struck by this statement in the rationale the Conservatives give for the new formula:

Because the population in rural areas is generally more spread out over greater distances, very large ridings can present challenges for MPs to reach out to their constituents and for rural Canadians to get their voices heard by their elected representatives.

Does anyone have experience with this? I live in an urban center and have never, ever seen my MP. Do other people actually see their MP? I try (my MP never responds, but that is a different story) to communicate by phone, email and mail, none of which relies significantly on location. I would have thought methods for communicating over distances were improving, not to mention the advantage to the environment if one makes use of these.

Anonymous said...

The "it's hard to represent big ridings" argument was used in the Alberta provincial electoral boundaries commission as well. There ended up being a "distance from the Legislature" factor too. Basically that argument is used to perpetuate the power imbalance that gives way more representation to rural areas.