Alberta Cities May Get More Legislature Seats
August 1, 2009
A panel appointed Friday to review the province's electoral boundaries will likely have to recommend Edmonton and Calgary receive more seats in the Alberta legislature, based on population growth, says a political science professor.
Chaldeans Mensah, who teaches political science at MacEwan College, said the panel will have to rebalance the number of rural versus urban seats by adding seats in the cities that have added the most new residents.
"If the goal is to add seats to reflect population change, then those changes have to go into the areas with the greatest increases in the number of new Albertans," he said. "I would be surprised if the rural areas, which I don't believe have seen any major shift in population, are given additional seats. That would reinforce the existing imbalance which I think is a deficiency of the existing boundary system."
Alberta Liberals have called on the province to set new boundaries for the existing 83 constituencies rather than adding four new ridings, as is planned. But Mensah said that would be difficult, because it would likely take seats away from rural areas.
"When you attempt to take seats away from rural ridings, you will run into stiff political challenges," he said. "You need to add new seats."
The Liberals say adding four new MLAs could cost Alberta taxpayers$10 million or more over four years.
"At a time when the Stelmach administration says Alberta can't afford to hire desperately needed doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals, how can the premier justify hiring four new MLAs?" asked Dr. David Swann, leader of the Official Opposition. "With a deficit that creeps closer to $10 billion every day, is this really where the premier wants to spend more?"
Swann said the province should consider cutting MLAs before cutting public services. His party once proposed reducing the number of MLAs from 83 to 65.Under the current arrangement, he said, Edmonton and Calgary are under-represented, while rural Alberta is overrepresented in the legislature.
But Premier Ed Stelmach "doesn't want any of his rural MLAs to have to face nomination battles if their seats are eliminated by redistribution."
He said Stelmach has manipulated matters so that seats will likely be added to the major cities. "He wants to placate voters in Edmonton and Calgary without upsetting his rural apple cart," Swann said.
Panel members unveiled Friday include Calgary lawyer Brian Evans, who served as Alberta's Justice minister from 1994 to 1997, Vegreville lawyer Peter Dobbie, who once wrote a paper on the implications of the Adult Interdependent Relationship Act, former Edmonton Journal reporter Allyson Jeffs, who now practises law, and political scientist Keith Archer, former University of Calgary research vice-president.
Evans and Dobbie were selected by Stelmach and Archer and Jeffs by the Liberals.
Evans is probably the best known member of the panel. The Canmore lawyer, who also served as environment minister from 1992 to 1994, made headlines in the Klein government with his attempts to privatize jails, bring back chain gangs, restore the death penalty and fight the federal gun control bill.
The commission will review existing electoral boundaries and make proposals to the Legislative Assembly as to the area, boundaries and names of electoral divisions.