Tuesday September 25, 2007
Gerrymandering Gord must stop
By BILL TIELEMAN
Gerrymander now means to divide a voting district in such a way as to give unfair advantage to one political party.
Imagine a place where the political leader overrules an independent commission report on electoral boundaries.
Imagine that leader orders more ridings be created in areas where his governing party is strongest and opposition weakest to win more seats in the next election.
Imagine a place where the vote of a person in an opposition riding is worth just a fraction of the vote of a person in a government riding.
Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe perhaps?
No. Try British Columbia under Premier Gordon Campbell.
Voters should be screaming blue bloody murder about Campbell's outrageous gerrymandering - intervening in an independent process to determine B.C's electoral boundaries to demand extra ridings that are clearly to the advantage of his own political party.
And all the while, Campbell piously claims to be "protecting" rural ridings.
More like protecting his own posterior. In fact, Campbell will actually dilute the influence of rural ridings by adding more Members of the Legislative Assembly in urban areas where his B.C. Liberal Party is strongest.
The independent B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission did an admirable job redistributing ridings fairly and in keeping with the fundamental democratic principle of representation by population.
The commission's report angered some rural areas because it would have added just two seats in total to the Legislature while eliminating three seats in places like Prince George, where population is declining.
But Campbell has used that rural anger to attempt one of the most daring and scandalous gerrymanders B.C. has ever seen.
The Electoral Boundaries Commission Act is clear that in sparsely populated areas "very special circumstances" allow the commission to exceed the plus or minus 25 per cent deviation in population per riding.
So a few rural ridings can have a lot less voters than an urban riding - fair enough.
The commission determined that despite allowing two ridings significant deviations of 53 per cent and 54 per cent over the average, some ridings would have to be combined.
But instead of letting the independent commission to do its job, Campbell has ordered it to keep the existing seats in those areas and add five new seats in "growing regions" - regions where the Liberals are strongest.
Why should Education Minister Shirley Bond be elected in Prince George-Mount Robson with 34,968 people, while NDP opposition MLA Jagrup Brar is elected in Surrey-Panorama Ridge with 64,890 people? Both members have one vote in the legislature but Brar represents 30,000 more voters!
There's no perfect solution to fairly distributing ridings but one thing is clear - Campbell's overruling an independent commission to add seats in Liberal areas is the worst kind of gerrymandering - and must be stopped.