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Neighbouring MPs criticize proposal to divide Saint John

Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long is sounding off against a proposed redraw of federal boundary lines that would divide the Port City in two. And the Liberal MP has an ally in neighbouring Conservative Fundy-Royal MP Rob Moore who is also criticizing the pitch. Photo: Adam Huras/Parliament Hill

OTTAWA • Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long is sounding o􀀁 against a proposed redraw of federal boundary lines that would divide the Port City in two.

And the Liberal MP has an ally in neighbouring Conservative Fundy-Royal MP Rob Moore who is also criticizing the pitch, with both MPs now calling on members of the community to step forward and object to the changes in attempts to stop them from going ahead.

But New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson, whose riding would inherit the west end of Saint John, is welcoming the proposal, although leaving it up to public opinion to sway what a 􀀂nal redraw looks like.

The reaction comes as the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick published its initial proposal to change the dividing lines of the provinceʼs 10 federal ridings.

It was 􀀂rst provided to Brunswick News and is creating waves among the provinceʼs politicians.

Arguably its most dramatic move is a pitch to divide the City of Saint John in two, using the Saint John River and Saint John Harbour as a topographical dividing line.

“I donʼt like it,” Long said in an interview with Brunswick News. “I donʼt like it one bit, I donʼt like that my city is split in two.

“The blood that runs through my body is Saint John West blood. Itʼs where I have made my home, itʼs where I grew up. I donʼt like the fact that what I would call my natural home and my base of west Saint John is now potentially being recommended to be represented by New Brunswick Southwest.”

Long added: “With the greatest respect, to think that the riding now, with the changes, would be represented by John Williamson in St. Stephen, I have a hard time with that.”

The proposed changes, which still have several consultative steps to make their way through before being 􀀂nalized, would see a domino e􀀁ect shi􀀃 take place.

Riverview would be cut out of the riding of Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe to instead join Fundy Royal.

But then Quispamsis would be cut out of Fundy Royal to join a Saint John riding that represents Uptown Saint John and the east end.

The entire west end would join New Brunswick Southwest.

In its report, the commission signals that it knows the move is controversial.

“The commission recognizes that, in addition to dividing one city into two electoral districts, this proposal also attaches a small part of the City of Saint John to a largely rural electoral district,” it states.

“Hybrid electoral districts are sometimes necessary, or desirable, to bring population numbers more in line with the provincial quota or to deal with natural topographical divisions.”

The report also notes that the idea was thought of, but rejected in a previous 2003 redraw.

“However, the option was not part of the commission's original redistribution proposal submitted for public input,” reads the report. “Therefore, awareness of the proposal was not widespread and there was little opportunity for public intervention and feedback.

“By suggesting these changes at the proposal stage this time, we hope to allow for proper public input and debate during the public consultation phase, including the public hearings.”

Reaction from the two Conservative MPs in the ridings neighbouring Saint John-Rothesay was split.

“I do question splitting the City of Saint John in two,” Moore said, who lives in Quispamsis, which would no longer be in his Fundy Royal riding if the redraw goes ahead. “I donʼt think thatʼs a wise move.

“In Atlantic Canada, that certainly runs against our tradition, particularly in New Brunswick, that a city would be split.”

Moore argued that cities across the country are usually only divided out of necessity when its core population becomes too big for a single riding, like in major population centres like Toronto, Montreal and Calgary that have multiple urban MPs.

“Saint Johnʼs population alone is well under the average population threshold of a riding in New Brunswick,” Moore said. “In no way, shape or form, in my opinion, should the city be split in two.

“I know the frustration that can cause.”

Moore said he has dealt 􀀂rst hand with the problems associated with that kind of move a􀀃er the last federal boundaries redraw added half of Riverview to his Fundy Royal riding, causing headaches ever since.

“It has been a frustration for over a decade,” Moore said. “I regularly get emails from constituents of (Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe MP) Ginette Petitpas Taylorʼs and Iʼm sure itʼs the same for her where people donʼt know which federal riding theyʼre in.

“I really do think itʼs alarming that we see one of our three major cities be split in two like that. Splitting relatively small municipalities, it just doesnʼt make sense.”

The commission did receive written submissions from Riverview residents complaining about current boundary lines that cut through subdivisions, in some cases seeing residents on one side of the street represented by another federal politician than their neighbours across the road.

The new proposal addresses that problem, moving Riverview in its entirety into Fundy Royal.

Moore said he supports that move.

He added that Fredericton also asked for its city boundaries to make up the parameters of its riding, which was also listened to.

“It looks like a case of ʻsqueaky wheel gets the grease,ʼ” he said. “When someone is satis􀀂ed, they donʼt tend to complain.

“No one expected that someone would sit in a room and draw a line right through the middle of our city. I havenʼt heard anyone say ʻletʼs split Saint John down the middle.ʼ

“No one suggested that.”

He added: “Iʼm thinking now people will.”

For his part, Williamson said he “loves Saint John” and would welcome representing it.

“It has always been a bit odd that parts of the areas east of Musquash havenʼt been in New Brunswick southwest,” he said.

He added that given the domino e􀀁ect of changes “itʼs a move thatʼs understandable.”

“It comes down to how you look at it,” Williamson said. “If you want to look at it as the glass is half full, Saint John will now have two members of Parliament representing the two pieces of it.

“Some might look at it as half empty in that instead of having one dedicated voice, there are two (with a partial focus).

“I think those are good questions, but I think they are questions for the City of Saint John, the mayor and councillors.”

“These changes speak to that.”

Williamson, Long and Moore all said that community members will now get their opportunity.

Public hearings are scheduled for Sussex, Rothesay and St. Andrews in late September, although none appear set for Saint John.

An interim report is due by early December.

And as a last chance for any change, the provinceʼs 10 current MPs can formally object before changes are 􀀂nalized next year.

Both Long and Moore said the decision also transcends political calculations.

Against the odds, Long has built a solid base as a progressive in Saint John, despite being surrounded by what are historically Conservative strongholds.

The Liberal strength of west Saint John could impact Williamson in New Brunswick Southwest.

Without that base, Long could struggle to be reelected in a newly formed riding.

Mooreʼs election calculation would see him drop Quispamsis and gain Riverview.

“This isnʼt about where we would do better or worse,” Moore said. “These are about the people we represent.

“Iʼm concerned regionally about the impact of a very important city split in two like that.

“To me, itʼs a step backwards for Saint John.”


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