Teddy here, the first in a series I am starting as part of my contribution to Blunt Objects, the Weekend Bonus. On Saturdays and Sundays I will make posts that are of general interest (politically speaking, of course) that do not relate to current news, but rather to the "small" stories, and/or historical examinations.
I'm starting this series with a look at the proposed ridings in New Brunswick. You can view the PDF file here http://www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca/nb/now/proposals/nb1.pdf I've lived in New Brunswick and want to explain some of the difficulty in trying to build an electoral map for the province.
Saint John, Moncton, and to a lesser degree, Fredericton, are growing cities. As a result, ridings that are in these cities must therefore get smaller, and, over time, appear to "draw in" neighbours. This is a "problem" in every province across the country, and thus, is not something unique to NB.
This relates to the point I will make next, but focusing on Religion specifically among the English speaking community, it is important to note that the Miramichi area is a largely Catholic and Anglo area of the province.
Note on the map that some of the parishes/municipalities are quite large in size. These, especially those in the Northern Interior, are "empty", areas full of forests that are not settled or farmed. Connecting villages on either end of these therefore comes across as a bit strange for voters.
This completes the four major problems facing New Brunswick. Alone, the top three are not enough to cause a real issue, as these problems exist in Newfoundland, Ontario, and Manitoba. Language itself is an issue in Quebec. However it is the combination of these issues that creates a particular problem for New Brunswick. There are, by the old and proposed new maps, 3 ridings which are "French" and a few which are bi-lingual. Lets examine them.
Save areas like Colborne and Durham, this riding is nearly entirely Francophone. While residents identify as Acadian, their culture has some things in common with that of Quebec. This is a somewhat controversial view in the area, but I would encourage one to compare the last names in Madawaska with those across the border in Quebec to see my point. My Maternal Grandfather is from Madawaska and his last name, Plourde, is rare among Acadians but very popular among Quebecois. Regardless, my point is that the "Franco" community in the NorthWest is united and cohesive. It includes most of this riding, as noted above, but also some areas of Victoria county, such as Drummond, and Saint Andre. Regardless of how you cut it, there are enough people here for a single riding.
This is, mostly, just the county of Gloucester. Despite the name, this is in fact the most Acadian part of the province. Like it's neighbour to the west, there is a large portion of the population (20%-40% in areas) that are unilingual Francophone. In 2004 the boundary commission tried to add portions of this riding to Miramichi, but this was overturned in the counts. Like the riding above, this riding is united, cohesive, and has enough population to justify it's existence as a riding.
This is where things get a bit tricky
Despite the attempts to add more areas to this riding, it is still woefully underpopulated. This is an English speaking riding, so one may wish to just add areas of other English speakers in; such as Victoria county. Remember however, that geographically, there are nearly no connections between the Miramichi area and Victoria, in fact, the entire "connection" is one puny highway. In order to follow the population you would need to head though the Doaktown area and start to encroach on Fredericton. The problem with this is religion. Miramichi is Catholic while all these other areas are not. thus one might look towards Kent county as the boundary commission has, but this creates it's own problem as...
Is another core of Franco and Acadian voters. The core of the problem is compounded by the fact that there are enough Acadians here for 1.3 ridings. This means that a number would have to be drawn into an Anglo riding, or two ridings would need to be created that are only a majority Acadian. You can clearly see the problem when you consider that if Kent county were drawn totally within Miramichi, that both ridings would have their population problems solved (the new proposed Beausejour is nearly at the "too high" population limit)
The problem of attempting to balance the needs of the Northern and Eastern populations of New Brunswick with those of the province as a whole are so complex that the last Commission was, as mentioned, taken to court. Nobody likes these new ridings (or so it seems from the feedback I've heard to this point) but it may be the case that this is the best that can be done for the time being.
Eventually, as the cities continue to grow, Miramichi will be forced to encompass much more of the interior and central portions of the province. This will enable the creation of a more bi-lingual Beausejour (where nearly the entire population is, in fact, bi-lingual) but for this redistribution, things remain tricky.
As an added bonus, I've included my own proposals on how to "fix" the situation in the comments.