Northwestern MPs react to electoral boundary commission changes

By Eric Shih
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Thunder Bay Source

Two of Northwestern Ontario’s MPs were very pleased, yet also disappointed, with the riding boundaries for Northern Ontario released in a report to the House of Commons by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission on Friday.

The final submitted boundary plan left the current riding boundaries in the Northwest relatively intact, however, it did eliminate one riding in Northern Ontario as a whole, going from 10 to nine ridings.

Marcus Powlowski, the Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, said he has mixed emotions about the plan.

“For us in Northwestern Ontario, it’s fantastic — I think we got everything we wanted. It’s good for the people of Northwestern Ontario. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the people of Northern Ontario as a whole, because Northern Ontario has lost one seat, so I’m unhappy with that fact,” he said.

Eric Melillo, the Conservative MP for Kenora said overall hat the commission  got it right.

“I’m pleased to see that the commission, from the proposal and the report that they provided, that they really heard the concerns that were expressed from people across our region and that they it looks like they made every attempt to try to rectify that,” Melillo said. 

“I have some disappointment around the fact that Northern Ontario as a whole is still losing one seat and what that might mean.

Powlowski said the loss of a riding means one less voice in parliament for the north in general, “and I think to some extent all of us represent some common interests, so that’s unfortunate.”

He said it will also result in some loss of funding for Northeastern Ontario, with some programs like Canada Summer Jobs providing funding on a per-riding basis.

 “The argument that I and the other members of parliament from all parties made across the north is that we have obviously large distances to travel.” Melillo said. “[We represent] a lot of very unique communities that we believe deserve stronger representation, whether those are Indigenous, Franco-Ontarian communities, some of those really spread out rural areas as well.”

He said the unique nature of Northern Ontario warranted stronger representation and the exceptions to keep the seat. In September, all 10 Northern Ontario MPs representing the three major federal political parties sent a joint letter to the Commission with concerns about losing a riding in the region.

The next step in the process for the riding boundaries will include a review by MPs in committees, Melillo said.

“It’s going to be a free-for-all for a while,” Powlowski said. “I think a lot of MPs are going to try to undo what was done by the committee – and there’s committees like this all across Canada.”

Powlowski said he’s spoken with Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing NDP MP Carol Hughes, whose riding may change significantly. He said he’ll support Northeastern Ontario MPs in opposing the loss of the seat.

“I’m not sure whether realistically they can get that seat back, but I’m certainly supportive of their efforts,” he said. “It wasn’t us this time, but it could be the next time, because of this process. I think certainly all of the people in the North ought to be supporting each other.” 

Powlowski said the formula for determining riding boundaries should follow Ontario’s.

“They’ve got a set number of seats for Northern Ontario and Southern Ontario,” he said. “So it’s not every time this happens, they start cannibalizing our seats in Northern Ontario for the sake of Southern Ontario.”

Still, Powlowski said he also recognizes Southern Ontario has really grown immensely in the last 20 years and they only got one extra seat. 

“I think we all have to acknowledge, we gave the commission an impossible task … which is, one extra seat and create better representation for all the people of Ontario. There was no winning formula for this – every formula would make people unhappy,” he said. “They did the best they could.”