As we head to the polls on Monday, it's time to wonder yet again how strangely indifferent the media and the chattering classes are to the balloting unfairness of our rural-favouring electoral system. I'm referring to the obvious and much-overlooked fact that Northern Ontario ridings get representation with fewer electors than we are allowed here in the big city.
In Saskatchewan, where rural federal electoral districts can have populations as much as 40 per cent smaller than city ridings, people went to Canada's Supreme Court to seek relief. Their lightly populated rural ridings kept forming provincial governments with fewer total voters than the opposition urban districts.
Our Supremes, however, have little truck or trade with the Yankee Supreme Court's rulings south of the border on voting equality - which only allow a maximum population variance of 1 per cent between an electoral district in Manhattan and one in the Illinois countryside. Canada's courts see one person, one vote as just one of a host of considerations in their woolly-headed doctrine of "effective representation,' which allows population variances of 25 per cent or more than the average populations of all ridings.
This sat very badly with an NDP government that won in spite of the skews because the Grant Devine Tory government was so unbelievably bad that it lost anyway. The Crats changed the variances to 5 per cent except for two northern districts, where they permitted wider variances.
Here in Ontario, Toronto city council dared to pass a resolution in 2002 saying that variances right across the province should be within 5 per cent. Councillors also recommended abolishing a Mulroney-era bill that keeps 19 extra MPs in seven provinces where their shrinking populations would otherwise have cleared them off.
No Toronto paper covered future mayor David Miller's appearance with another councillor before the redistricting commission hearings. The Toronto press did cover his recent speech to the Empire Club, wherein he raised for the first time the question of our under-representation in relation to population by three or four seats, but this whole topic, again, attracted not a line!
The redistricting commissioners - who traditionally don't like carving up existing boundaries if they chop up existing communities - brought the balance of Toronto's 22 ridings closer to the recommended 5 per cent variance and bent a border as suggested to give the town two-thirds of an additional district, rather than giving us at least two more members as our population merits. They moved somewhat more daringly with the 11 Northern Ontario ridings that have long averaged about 30 per cent smaller populations than Toronto's ridings, and cut one of them out altogether.
Hey, nobody fools with Northern Ontario. So it's not surprising that the McGuinty government announced in the November 2003 Speech from the Throne - and very recently in new legislation, snuggled down amidst stuff about the democratic deficit and a fixed term between elections - that there will continue to be 11 provincial districts in the North (while there will only be 10 in the national Parliament).
For perspective, see the redistricters' proposed population of Parry Sound-Muskoka after the elimination of one of the North's 11 seats: 81,705. Contrast this with the immediately adjacent but unhappily not northerly enough riding of Simcoe North: 111,057. The Parry Sound riding's population will now presumably shrink an additional 10 per cent in the provincial arena, to about 73,000 with the restoration of the 11th seat.
To take another example, Toronto's Parkdale-High Park has a population of 110,639 while Thunder Bay has 84,194. Of course, those aren't voters, just raw population numbers. Still, the huge disparities are more than enough to cover the differences between ridings in the number of voting- aged residents. How delicious it would be if the next federal government freshened up a very out-of-touch Supreme Court. We might even dare to push for a royal commission to urgently examine the old constitution clauses, judgments and legislation that justify such unequal treatment of voters depending on where they live.