Tuesday, September 25, 2007

BC Liberals attempt outrageous gerrymandering by intervening with BC Electoral Boundaries Commission

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday September 25, 2007

Gerrymandering Gord must stop


Gerrymander now means to divide a voting district in such a way as to give unfair advantage to one political party.

- Phyllis Martin, Quips, Quotes and Savvy Sayings

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.


Anonymous said...

Let's see...

The current legislature has 79 seats.

The boundaries commission recommends:

1. Eliminating 4 seats (Cariboo, North, Kootenay, and the Yale-Lillooet riding)

2. Addition of 5 seats in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Fraser Valley, and Okanagan.

Campbell and NDP state that three ridings in the North, central interior, and Kootenays must be re-instated.

Ergo, the 5 new ridings + re-instatement of 3 old ridings equals 8... the magical number that legislation will apparently permit the boundaries commission to increase the legislatue by.

So where's the gerrymandering?? It sure ain't Gracie's Finger...

Anonymous said...

Sounds closer to malapportionment rather than a proper gerrymander, particularly if you are looking at multi-member electorates selected by STV!

Mark Crawford said...

I am not sure that intervention to protect 2 rural seats is wrong. The 5 additional seats in "growing" (Liberal) regions were recommended by the COmmission, and not added to the mix by Campbell, is that not right?

Anonymous said...

No, it isn't right and sorry if this is long-winded.

The easiest way to think about this is to consider how MLAs were added when dual member ridings came into being. In essence, when the population grew in urban areas, a second member was added to serve the same territory. In this case however, a riding with a deviation from the average would be split into two distinct urban ridings.

Here's how the math could work:

1) You have 79 ridings now.
2) You need to protect the rural ridings. To protect them, you do not delete them; rather, you keep 79 ridings throughout the province, including three PG ridings, two in the North-east, four in the southeast, as well saving Yale-Lilloet.
3) However, you need to add seats to the urban areas. So, you take the 79 ridings, and add seats in Greater Vancouver and one seat in the Okanagan. The Commission was given the power to add six seats, taking the total to 85 as a maximum. In its FIRST DRAFT, the Commission elected to delete interior ridings and add to the urban areas for a net total of 81.

4) However, Campbell's proposal takes the seats up to a required 87. According to the press release, the total number of ridings in the interior/north/south-east are to remain the same (no deletions): however, now eight additional ridings are added to the urban areas.

5) So, you have the same number of rural ridings, that is the ridings beyond Hope, plus EIGHT urban ridings (6 from Hope to Vancouver, 1 in the Okanagan and likely one in Greater Victoria).

Hence, rural representation - while maintaining the same number of reps - is essentially diluted.

This system is great for STV in that it will likely result in 5-7 member ridings in the lower mainland.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first commentator entirely. I should also add that about the only way you can “maintain” those rural seats is to lower the average riding size to meet deviation criteria as dictated by the Supreme Court. In order the lower the riding averages you need to add more MLA’s. it’s very simple math. Last I heard it was still up to Electoral Boundaries to actually decide where the riding boundaries will get established.

Areas of more growth are entitled to more representations and that is as simple a concept as it gets. These comments are amazingly amateur coming from someone with Tielman’s background. Bill you of all people should clearly know better than to imply such patently incorrect things as “Gracie’s Finger” this is a far, far cry from that, and you should know better.

Anonymous said...

Gordon is quite prepared to do just about anyhting to stay in power, The experts he hired to get the apy raise ment he just had to come up with the money, then he tagged on the pension and made it a all or nothing event. The guy has no class. Maybe we should go for a few dozen more to make real sure he gets what he wants? dl

Ian King said...

Thrashing about are we, Bill? I recall that just a few days before Campbell announced the terms for the boundaries commission, we had Robin Austin blasting the loss of rural ridings, noting that the commission could have had as many as 85 ridings and protected the rural ones, accepting a bit of malapportionment in the process. Now we've got Bruce Ralston and Bob Simpson (and now you) screaming gerrymander, and Carole James spreading faux-populist nonsense about how we don't need more pols (despite opposing a recommedation that would have seen fewer new MLAs). The NDP is trying to suck and blow here, and failing miserably.

Now, you're complaining about some votes being worth less than others. To take your example of Brar and Bond, adding extra urban seats counteracts the imbalance. So we're moving away from this supposedly Mugabe-esque (a bullshit comparison on your part) situation.

Not only has Campbell taken the only move that could keep the rural ridings while sticking to rep-by-pop, he's snookered the NDP for the umpteenth time this year.

Now, let's look at the three new ridings that we'll see in addition to the five already added to urban areas: prolly means one in the Capital district (likely NDP), one south of the Fraser (likely Liberal), and something in Vancouver/Burnaby (toss-up). So where's the tilting of the field, Bill? The only principle at work here is that it's a Liberal initiative, so it must by definition be bad -- even if one has to cook up the most hare-brained and incoherent reasons as to why.

You know damn well that this is no gerrymander. Besides, people in growing areas are not compelled by some mysterious force to vote Liberal. Maybe if the NDP offered them a palatable and coherent alternative, they'd be the ones in line to won most of those new seats.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to consider changing the 'one seat - one vote' rule to 'one person - one vote' rule. That is, instead of each MLA having an equal say in the legislature, they could vote 'on behalf of my 35,0000 (or however many there are) constituents'. Votes in the legislature would then be decided on the basis of how representatives of a majority of the population voted, not on the number of MLAs.

This would provide incredible flexibility in boundary setting - it would make it easy to retain northern MLAs or even add several more since each of them would simply vote on behalf of a reduced number of constituents compared with a southern MLA. In the south, you could easily match riding boundaries to municipal boundaries - if there were a few thousand more constituents in one riding than another, that MLA would simply have a bit more voting power.

Budd Campbell said...

For the first time ever I find myself forced to agree with Liberal pundit Ian King, who's closely associated with another Liberal who, like Ian, is in favour of "Taliban killing, the distinguished Mister Terry Glavin. {My latest babble banning by Michelle occured because I said King works alongside Glavin, so perhaps someone can tell me why that's such an explosive thing to say.}


Please do yourself and everyone who usually enjoys your column a huge favour and drop this subject at once. You can only go so far into the shallows, ... and then you're kind of lost, ... permanently.

Ian King said...


Bill's a hell of a lot more NDP than I am Liberal. I'm an independent and have been for ages; my most recent affiliation was Rhino, the last true party of the common people.

Stay away from Rabble -- it'll rot your brain.

Bill Tieleman said...

Ian, Budd, other posters - I don't know how much clearer it has to get for you to understand what has happened - the Premier of the province has intervened in the work of an independent Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Gordon Campbell has told the Commission how to do its independent job and where to creat new ridings.

This is totally inappropriate.

Campbell has done this even while the Commission had planned province-wide hearings where the public could have had their say and the Commission - not the Premier - could have responded to their input.

I have great faith that the Commission will continue to do their best to be independent. But Campbell's actions have now tainted their work.

Lastly, if the Commission had felt that not eliminating some seats and adding 5 more was the best way to redistribute BC's ridings it would have done so - it did not.

Now it has to because the Premier ordered it to.

Gerrymandering and intolerable political interference.

Budd Campbell said...

Gordon Campbell has told the Commission how to do its independent job and where to creat new ridings.

This is totally inappropriate.

Others were critical of the elimination of some rural ridings as well. Were they interfering too, or just Campbell?

Yes, the Premier's announcement throws the Commission's original schedule off balance, and might conceivably mean we won't have any redistribution at all prior to the fixed election date of 2009. But if the Commission's report is unacceptable to both parties and a majority of MLAs because of the reduction in rural representation, it won't be accepted in any event and again, the schedule might not be met.

As far as I know the Premier has not told the Commission how or where to draw individual riding boundaries, and that is what is meant by the term gerrymandering.

If the NDP is afraid that adding seats in fast growing areas in the Fraser or Okanagan Valley is not to their advantage, I think they need to realize that the partisan advantage involved, whether one is adding only two seats or eight seats, cannot possibly be more than one or two seats under even the most extreme scenarios.

And if that's the result of implementing rep by pop with a larger seat total, the larger seat total being necessary to accommodate rural representation demands and still be able to equalize riding populations as required by law, then that's something that the NDP is just going to have to live with.

It's called democracy. Fair and equitable redistributions cannot be done where boundary lines are creatively drawn so as to artificially exaggerate one party's strength. But the interests of fair competition between the parties is not the only criteria at issue. There is a wider public interest involved in reducing large populations in under-represented areas, the areas where population has grown most quickly.

If at this point in BC history granting additional seats to those areas confers one or two additional seats on the Liberals, that is something the NDP needs to be mature enough to accept as part of a committment to the democratic process.

I find it very, very hard to believe that this Commission is going to design a map using the new 87 seat figure that will confer any undue partisan advantage on anyone, beyond what they are entitled to.

Finally, I really do hope Bill that you're going to pull out of this thing before it's too late. It's really painful watching someone cry "gerrymander" when what they are trying to do is maintain a map that they feel confers an artificial advantage on their own party that cannot stand the test of representational equity.

Ian King said...

Gerrymandering is redrawing boundaries to one party's advantage. Campbell is doing no such thing; he is sending them back with a different mandate.

The government screwed up the initial terms -- especially if your concern is preserving rural seats. (Wait a second, isn't the size of rural seats one of the KNOW STV talking points?) It didn't give the commission a mandate to protect any areas even though it could have done so. The commission noted the same thing in the preliminary report. Darned if Campbell didn't take them up on that suggestion and fixed his error.

If Campbell ordered the ridings to be added to Richmond, Kelowna and the Valley (as an example), you'd be right and I'd be screaming bloody murder right alongside you. He's not; the Commission gets to work out the details. If Campbell tries to jimmy the boundaries after the final report, that's a problem.

I seriously doubt that you'd be spinning like this if it were a New Democrat doing the same. You can scream gerrymander all you want, but just like Dubya's Iraq-9/11 connection, repeating it won't make it true.

Anonymous said...

I once again agree completely with the comments from both Ian King and Budd Campbell. Although I do not personally know either person; they clearly understand what is required to preserve rural representation. Mr.Tielman your response to these gentlemen was very disappointing. You display a blatant type of “I can never be wrong” arrogance that was precisely what has served your friends in the NDP so poorly over the years. I suggest you own up to the fact that you have called this one very much in error.

Budd Campbell said...

"If Campbell ordered the ridings to be added to Richmond, Kelowna and the Valley (as an example), you'd be right and I'd be screaming bloody murder right alongside you."

And if Stephane Dion said or did something dumb, you'd ... er, ... ah, ... find something else to talk about, right?

You mentioned babble, but not Terry Glavin. Why is it so explosive to suggest that you two are writing from the same play book on Afganistan? Really, Ian, I would like to know why that's such dynamite that Terry got Michelle to cancel my latest babble identity?

Anonymous said...

Hey, what about us!! Regular. Boring. People.

Bill said: Campbell has done this even while the Commission had planned province-wide hearings where the public could have had their say and the Commission - not the Premier - could have responded to their input.

The public. Us, the great regularly washed, but not perfumed. Why does everyone else get to mark up this map before we get a glimpse at it?

First Campbell, before anyone else. Is this a case of "no no, that's not what I wanted", and out came the sharpie.

Then all the MLA's and interested parties get a peek at the new boundaries, and at the new ridings. Possibility of some sharpie marks here.

And then finally, if there is time and if someone thinks we, the public, might still be interested, someone will roll out the scruffy, bent and oft folded, coffee ringed and sharpie detailed map and say, there ya go. Do you want to talk about STV now?

It will be a done deal by that point.

2 ?s 1. Why can't Gordo leave the Pro's to do their jobs without his interference?

2. Gracie's finger is long gone isn't it? I've been out of the city for a long time but I remember when she stuck it out.

Ian King said...


Guess you missed me tearing a strip off of Raymond Chan this week. Nonetheless, I am disappointed that Dion's leadership has been so subdued and nonexistent (rather like some provincial leaders) that it doesn't make good column-fodder. If Dion actually took a stand, and I were to disagree with it, I'd take him on. (Just guess what would happen if he decided to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban...)

It's hardly explosive to suggest that Terry Glavin and I have similar views on Afghanistan -- and on the moral and intellectual rot that has infected too much of the left. I'd been writing about these topics and had reached my conclusions long before we'd ever exchanged email. What this has to do with Rabble is beyond me, but from what I've seen, the Michelle creature is a lousy moderator -- enforcing York U orthodoxy, playing favourites, and letting it be a gathering place for that rot on the left I referred to earlier. Why waste your time with it?

Anonymous said...

Thank God the present Government has decided not to make any changes to provincial boundaries. I live in a rural riding, know the distances between smaller communities and understand why there are fewer voters per MLA in parts of this province. Governments concern regarding current mandate of the committee that traveled the Province and the issues they have raised supports tabling all recommendations to ensure any change to boundaries is both just and appropriate.