Every few years, particularly after a census, the Quebec Electoral Commission studies our provincial ridings to determine whether new boundaries may be necessary given changes to population. But this year, one of Quebec's faceless bureaucrats, has suggested not just changes in boundaries, but studing the possibility of eliminating one Montreal riding altogether. That riding is Mount Royal.
The provincial Mount Royal riding rests between D'Arcy McGee and Outremont. What is being studied would split Mount Royal's citizens between those two ridings and shunt part of Outremont's residents into Mercier riding. The last hearings on boundaries will be held in the National Assembly in the second week of September. We should show up in strength to oppose this ludicrous initiative.
Quebec's riding system has been a laughing-stock of Canada for years. We are one of the last jurisdictions with institutionalized gerrymandered riding boundaries. What does that mean? It means that rural ridings average 30-35,000 residents. Urban ridings average 50-55,000.
Government after government, of whatever party, have been afraid to merge rural ridings because of entrenched traditions, cultural and political. Fine. Then why not expand the number of urban ridings so that populations will be more closely balanced? It would surely help the Liberals? But political will is missing. Easier to leave it to the bureaucrats, even if it helps the PQ in the end.
But there are other elements in this possible attack on Mount Royal that are troubling. We have often pointed out that all the political talk of respect for diversity is just so much bunk. But this suggestion underlines more sinister neglects.
First, Mount Royal has more cultural communities than any riding in the province. Some four dozen. Why leave these people without legislative representation?
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Mount Royal has the second largest population living in poverty on the island in its Côte-des-Neiges district. Why leave these vulnerable Quebecers without a representative concerned with the very special and urgent needs of the poor? Could anyone imagine Montreal's poorest district, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, being left without a voice?
Thirdly, at a time when the island of Montreal has become more than 50% non-francophone, why should the anglophone and allophone communities be deprived of a National Assembly member?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, at a time when many of us - Francophone, Anglophone and Allophone alike - are fighting for special status for Montreal, this city cannot afford to lose its strength of numbers in the Assembly.
The official position of the Commission is that any changes to the electoral map are guided by two principles. First, "the equality of the vote of all electors" and second, "respect for natural communities."
The equality of everyone's vote has never been seen in Quebec. It takes about 1.5 votes to elect someone in an urban riding to equal the weight of one vote in a rural one due to the population discrepancies. So this proposal certainly doesn't help the goal of equality. In fact it may even inflate the populations of D'Arcy McGee and Outremont making matters worse.
As for the second goal, Mount Royal is a natural community. It's the destination where so many new immigrants go because there are support systems composed of people from their home countries. Why break up a seat of caring and compassion?
So how can the Commission get away with even considering this? Because the law in Quebec says that the population deviation of ridings can be as high as 25% of the provincial average. The federal level is 10%. Believe it or not.
We need to make a stand for the provincial riding of Mount Royal. We encourage those who can to make presentations to the National Assembly committee between Sept.12-14. You can call your MNA's office to help you book time. You should also call D'Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, Mount Royal MNA Pierre Arcand and Outremont MNA Hélène David to make sure they vocally oppose this proposal. Finally, the Commission itself invites the public to post comments on its site at http://lacarte.electionsquebec.qc.ca/fr/. We assure you, that ten thousand posted comments will send this idea to the garbage can.