John Williamson: Doubling MPs a win for Saint John voters | Telegraph Journal
The Reversing Falls Bridge
If one is good, then two is better. No one disagrees with this logic when we’re talking about boiled lobster or long weekends. So why all the concern in New Brunswick now that the topic is political representation?
The final report of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for New Brunswick was released late last year and the proposal to split Saint John into two ridings appears to be the biggest point of contention.
Currently the Port City is represented in Parliament by the single riding of Saint John-Rothesay. However, should the next election happen after April 2024, the eastern portion of the city will be paired with Rothesay and Quispamsis to become Saint John-Kennebecasis. The western portion of the city will be combined with New Brunswick Southwest, which already runs from Sussex through Grand Bay-Westfield to St. Stephen, and be known as Saint John-St. Croix. The Saint John River will serve as the dividing line.
According to recent Telegraph-Journal coverage, such a plan represents “a sad day” for residents. “Riding redo rips city apart” reads another headline. But hold on a minute. We could easily change that to “Saint John doubles its political representation in Parliament.” Is anyone going to object to that?
Electoral boundary redistribution is always a delicate process since it involves balancing a host of constitutional, geographic and demographic factors. For New Brunswick, that means allocating our 10 ridings across the province in a way that’s fair and equitable to all residents. For voters in Saint John, however, these new changes will actually improve their situation.
That’s because competition is the core of politics. And increasing the number of MPs in Saint John will lead to greater competition whether the city is represented by two MPs from opposing political parties or the same one.
The job of an MP is to represent the people who live in those areas and listen to their voices and concerns. With two MPs in Saint John, residents will soon have twice as many options for making their concerns known.
Imagine an issue arises that has an impact on everyone who lives in city. Voters can first seek out their local MP. But if they’re dissatisfied with how that representative has responded to a local issue in Parliament, they’ll have the ability to go across the river and petition the other MP.
How do you think the MPs will react to such a prospect? If it was me, I’d work especially hard on the issue since I would not want to be shown up by my competitor. I suspect the other MP would feel the same way. Having two MPs in the same city will thus create more leverage for Saint John voters. Competition breeds excellence and better customer satisfaction. As well, multiple MPs lobbying federal government officials for attention and infrastructure projects will deliver better results.
Further, these new ridings are not gerrymandered absurdities that will limit political attention. “Both the urban and the rural populations of Saint John-St. Croix are significant. Therefore, the elected representative will have to attend to the interests of both,” the Commission’s final report reads. I agree.
As for arguments that Fredericton and Moncton have a single MP, and so should Saint John, such a position ignores the growth and vitality of our region. The fast-expanding Port of Saint John is our province’s most exciting economic story. That the city is getting two MPs should be considered a vote of confidence in its future prospects. It’s a good news story all around.
Other medium-sized cities across Canada have also been split into multiple federal ridings. St. John’s, Newfoundland, for example, is divided into the ridings of St. John’s East and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl. In Ontario, Barrie and Thunder Bay are similarly bifurcated as is Red Deer in Alberta. There is nothing unusual or problematic about such an arrangement. If anything, the loud demand that cities should be represented by only one MP is unique to New Brunswick.
It should also be noted that the independent Commission that determined the new riding boundaries proved itself willing to listen to local concerns and take action where appropriate. After residents of McAdam pointed out their strong economic and cultural ties to southwest New Brunswick, the commissioners reversed their original decision to move the village into the northern riding of Tobique-Mactaquac. As a result, McAdam will be part of the new Saint John-St. Croix riding, where it belongs. This is especially advantageous since rail freight containers from Saint John’s Port travel via McAdam through the United States before arriving in Montreal, Toronto and other destinations.
Finally, despite all the headlines, only one elected official formally objected to the Commission’s overall redistribution plan – Wayne Long, MP for Saint John-Rothesay. As he now faces the prospect of having a competitor across the river, perhaps Mr. Long’s preference for the status quo is understandable. In the coming years, however, I look forward to meeting with Saint John voters, hearing their concerns and showing everyone why two representatives in Parliament is better than one.
Originally published January 20 in New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal newspaper.
John Williamson is Conservative MP for New Brunswick Southwest and chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.