Friday, December 28, 2012

The Anti-Avalon Bias of Provincial Election Boundaries

According to the Electoral Boundaries Act, section 15(1):  

"the commission shall ensure that the division of the province into districts and the description of the boundaries give primacy to the principle that the vote of every elector in the province shall have a weight equal to that of every other elector."

Let's consider how well this principle is being met by current boundaries. Since the 2006 redistribution there are 4 districts in Labrador, 19.5 on the Avalon, and 24.5 on the island outside of the Avalon (I've split Bellevue in half). The average populations of these districts from the 2011 census are as follows.

Average Population
Labrador districts:
Off-Avalon districts:
Avalon districts:

Avalon districts contain 50% more people than off-Avalon districts and twice as many as Labrador districts. Considered differently, the Avalon would have 5 more seats if the districts were evenly divided.

How did this happen? There are at least three contributing factors: the act requires four districts in Labrador, the boundaries were drawn using 2001 census numbers which don't account for net migration to the Avalon since then, and even based on the outdated 2001 figures the districts in the North-East Avalon were drawn about 15 percent larger than those outside of the Avalon. 

The next redistribution of districts is scheduled for 2016, so unless the act is changed our next election will take place with these lopsided districts that are only getting worse. A change before the election would likely help the NDP, so it probably isn't going to happen.

Instead I'll make a more modest proposal.  Why not postpone the redistribution until 2017 so the commission can use the 2016 census instead of the 2011 census?  It's crazy to draw the boundaries just a few months before the new census data goes public.  The commission might also be permitted to consider population growth projections when setting the boundaries so they don't become outdated as quickly.

*********** Update ************

This chart shows the share of the province's population living in the St. John's census metropolitan area (CMA) versus the share of electoral districts.

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