Nault shocked, upset by ruling to split riding

Robert Nault, who may not be the local MP for Rainy River District by the next election, was in complete shock yesterday after hearing a provincial commission proposing electoral riding changes here had decided to split his riding, attaching us to Thunder Bay- Atikokan instead of Kenora.
“I can’t be anything but extremely disappointed,” Nault said from North Bay, where he was attending a Liberal caucus retreat.
“Clearly they failed to understand the concerns expressed by this MP and the vast majority of mayors and councils in the Kenora- Rainy River district,” he added.
“The commission has chosen to completely ignore recommendations from Ontario MPs completely across the board.”^Though some minor boundary changes and riding changes were made by the commission, the large changes were completely rejected for the most part.
Here, the commission suggested Nault’s objection to the riding change came too late, after the public hearings, making it difficult to make broad-reaching changes to the riding boundaries.
“I thought it was a weak argument,” Nault said of the commission’s explanation.
He was frustrated they’d say this, especially since the changes he objected to hadn’t been published until after the public consultations.
The commission thought the MPs should have made their case at those meetings.
“I didn’t think there was a need to [attend],” Nault added, referring to the round of public consultations.
“There was nothing this dramatic on the horizon.
“I do think they were trying very desperately to justify not overturning their decision,” he remarked.
“You know, naturally our position was we wanted to stay with Thunder Bay,” said Atikokan Mayor Dennis Brown, who formally objected to the first draft of the proposed riding change in which Atikokan was to be added to Kenora-Rainy River.
“I guess from our stand point, we’re still part of Thunder Bay,” said Mayor Brown, happy their objections to the change at the public consultations were reflected in the commission’s final report.
“We’ll lose the Atikokan part [of the name],” he added.
The new riding, which could be in place by the time the next federal election rolls around (expected sometime in 2004), will be called Thunder Bay-Rainy River.
“It’s a big area,” Brown said of the new riding. “I know they need to take in population, but it’s a vast geographic area.”^One of the biggest concerns with the new riding is that the political voice in the west end of it, effectively Rainy River District, will be lost.
“It’s going to depend a lot on who the MP becomes,” Mayor Brown remarked. “It’ll be important the MP learns the Rainy River District.
“In all fairness, I don’t think we found it that way,” he added, regarding the loss of a political voice because of a larger urban population centered in Thunder Bay dominating issues.
“I wouldn’t be too concerned about that.”^Nevertheless, Nault has had to concede that Rainy River District will be connected to Thunder Bay now and not Kenora.
“There’s not much we can do at this time,” he admitted. “It will be under the representative from Thunder Bay. We’ll monitor that and see how that representation does work.
“There may be a different view in 10 years,” he added of the negative vibe people are getting from decision right now. “If not, we’ll go back to the commission.”^But with the apparent “flaws” in the redistribution systems, will that be enough? The parliamentary sub-committee that had recommended the commission keep Kenora-Rainy River as is suggested some reform must be done.
“We’ll review the relevance in how the commission did its work,” Nault said.
The riding change is on track to come into effect sometime after Sept. 1, 2004, but that might change shortly.
“There is conversation going on that this will be fast-tracked,” noted Nault, adding that discussions with the Chief Electoral Officer suggested it could be implemented by April 1 next year—in time for a possible federal election in late spring.
“Over the last 15 years, I have had the pleasure to serve the Rainy River District as their MP,” concluded Nault. “Throughout this time, I have made many friends.
“Although the Rainy River District will now have a new MP, I intend to work together with my colleague in order to ensure that Northwestern Ontario continues to grow as a region,” he vowed.