OTTAWA — Toronto might lose some representation in the House of Commons because of faster population growth outside of the city — and some local MPs say that’s an unacceptable drop in democracy for Canada’s biggest metropolis.
Under suggested new boundaries for federal ridings in Ontario, Toronto would fall from 25 to 24 voting districts as part of a redrawn electoral map that accounts for an extra 1.3 million provincial residents with the addition of a single seat.
“I think it’s outrageous,” said John McKay, the long-serving Liberal MP for Scarborough—Guildwood, who noted how Scarborough is taking the hit in Toronto by dropping from six ridings to five under the proposed changes.
He called it an “egregious diminution of the influence of Scarborough and Toronto in the Parliament of Canada.”
In an email to the Star, Scarborough North MP Shaun Chen echoed McKay’s position and expressed concern that the proposed boundaries would split communities like the Alton Towers Circle neighbourhood into different ridings.
“Once again, Scarborough is getting shafted,” Chen said. “I encourage everyone to speak out at the upcoming public hearings.”
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has represented the riding of Beaches—East York since 2015, also criticized the proposed changes for decreasing the number of Toronto seats in the House of Commons.
“The goal of any boundary redrawing should be to strengthen representation, and this proposal instead undermines that goal,” said Erskine-Smith, who is the Liberal party’s caucus chair for its 24 MPs in Toronto.
“Our 416 caucus is actively reviewing the proposal and will be working together to ensure that any changes improve representation in the city and province,” he added.
The proposal was unveiled Friday as part of a once-in-a-decade process to recalibrate federal ridings across Canada to ensure fair representation in the face of population shifts. The changes for each province are recommended by an independent commission; in Ontario, they are based on a target for each riding to contain around 116,590 residents.
In a statement accompanying the suggested changes, the chair of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario, Superior Court Justice Lynne Leitch, said the redrawn electoral map is meant to “correct wide variations in voter equality that have emerged across the province over the past decade due to population change.”
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Responding to the Star’s questions about the changes in Toronto, the commission said faster population growth in areas outside of the city limits prompted it to cut one riding from Toronto and add two in other areas of the province.
“The population of every electoral district in the city of Toronto is now within 10 per cent of the provincial average,” the commission said.
The commission had to work with 122 ridings to represent Ontario’s 2021 population of more than 14.2 million people. The last time riding boundaries were redrawn, Ontario was given 121 seats for its population of almost 12.9 million people in 2011.
Census data from 2021 shows some of the fastest growing communities in Canada are in the suburbs outside of Toronto, including East Gwillimbury, which grew by 44 per cent from 2016 to 2021, and New Tecumseth, which increased by 28 per cent. Toronto grew by less than three per cent over those five years.
In the coming months, the commission is staging public hearings about its proposed riding changes, and is scheduled to receive and consider “objections from MPs” before issuing a final decision in September 2023.
McKay said he plans to submit arguments against the proposed changes after he hears what other parliamentarians in the city think.
“We will discuss the impact among ourselves and see what our strategy might be,” he said.
Erskine-Smith’s riding is one of several in Toronto that would get new names under the proposed changes. Beaches—East York would become The Beaches—East York.
Other changes include renaming Parkdale—High Park as Taiaiako’n—High Park, and rejigging the boundaries of Toronto—St. Paul’s so it becomes a new riding called St. Clair—Mount Pleasant.
After the redistribution is complete, the number of seats in the House of Commons is slated to increase by five, when Canada will have 343 members of Parliament.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga
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