Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Drawing Winnipeg's new electoral divisions

Like clockwork, that decennial ritual has begun again. The creaks and groans of the long-cold body can only mean it's beginning to stir. Soon, arisen, it will reclaim the mantle it once knew and the power it can still taste. That’s right; as readers of Curtis Brown's blog will know by now, the Electoral Divisions Boundaries Commission is back, and it will be sure to draw amazement from some and strike fear into the hearts of others.

Cheesy metaphors aside, I noted last year in my post-provincial election post that the redistribution of electoral boundaries will set off some pretty intense jockeying among incumbents over who gets to run where, particularly in regions where a seat has been eliminated. For example, in a region where five MLAs of one party see their seat count reduced to four over the same geographic region, you can bet it'll lead to some heated poll number-scanning, political organizing, and quiet deal-making. It’s Survivor: Manitoba for political junkies - literally, provincial politicians will be getting voted off the island.

I’m too intrigued by the whole process to wait patiently for the Commission to come up with their first set of proposed maps, so I’ve taken a close look at the numbers they've provided, which are based on the 2006 census data, to speculate on what they're likely to propose. While southern Manitoba is likely to see some dramatic redrawing of boundaries, I started first with my observations on Winnipeg. I'll consider non-Winnipeg and political implications of the demographic changes in future posts.

Winnipeg overview

I stated in my post last year that I thought the City of Winnipeg would see its share of the 57 seats go up from 31 to 32. However, based on the numbers, I no longer think that will be the case.

Based on the 2006 census data, the population of the city’s current 31 seats divided by the population quotient provided by the commission gives the city 31.44 seats, on average. Given that seats north of 53° (of which there are currently four) are allowed to be significantly below the quotient (with all other seats within 10% of 21,147), Winnipeg should stand a little above the quotient, which means the same 31 seats it’s had for the last ten years. By 2018, the number will likely move up again.

Within the city, the seats with the largest populations are Fort Whyte (a whopping 47% over the quotient), Southdale (22% over quotient), Seine River (15% over quotient), and Kildonan (7% over quotient). The smallest is St. Norbert (7% below quotient). What I found most interesting was that inner city seats are all very close to the quotient. It seems to me that in the last couple of redistributions, the inner city lost considerable numbers of voters and saw seats disappear as a result. This time, with an apparently more stable population, the inner city thankfully isn’t likely to lose any MLAs.

So if it’s clear that south Winnipeg -- driven by Fort Whyte, Seine River and Southdale -- must see improved representation, but that the city will stay at 31, where will the extra representation come from? The only reasonable answer is that existing constituency boundaries will be dragged southward to accommodate the growth in the south. My map's arrows (click on the map to get a larger, more readable version) and accompanying discussion illustrate what I speculate will happen.

East Winnipeg

On the east side of the Red River, there are 11 seats. Of these, seven (River East, Rossmere, Concordia, St. Boniface, St. Vital, Riel, and Transcona) are about 1,000 below the quotient, while Elmwood is close to the quotient, Radisson is above by about 1,000, and Seine River and Southdale are considerably up.

If the seven that are below quotient expand to their quotient level of voters, this will almost exactly match the amounts by which Seine River and Southdale need to shrink. This likely means that Radisson will move southward to become much more of a Windsor Park constituency; much of its northern portions will become part of expanded Rossmere, Concordia, and Transcona constituencies. Then, by taking of more of Windsor Park from Southdale, the old Radisson constituency allows the former to shed voters to achieve a near-quotient level.

Seine River also needs to shed voters to new constituencies. To achieve this, St. Boniface will likely expand southward, which will push St. Vital southward and Riel southward into former Seine River territory.

Southwest Winnipeg

In the southwest, things get interesting: Fort Whyte is 9,000 voters over quotient, which means it’s grown to nearly the size of 1.5 constituencies. How to rearrange the seats here to accommodate half of a new constituency? The one that seems an obvious answer is to take the south half of Fort Rouge (the only constituency to be divided by a river, something to be generally avoided in the creation of constituencies, I would argue) and turn it into a whole constituency. This generates the additional half a constituency needed to accommodate Fort Whyte’s growth.

How then to redraw the boundaries in the south end? I think it’s likely the commission will fall on tradition and carve out a Crescentwood, which was first created for the 1970s, then vanished in the 1980s, was re-created in late 1988, and then vanished again in 1998. As with its 1990s incarnation, Crescentwood would likely take the eastern portion of River Heights, the “planets” portion of Fort Garry, and the western portions of Lord Roberts and Fort Rouge.

With the Osborne Village piece of Fort Rouge, Lord Roberts will become much like the 1990s-era Osborne constituency. River Heights would move several blocks west to accommodate Crescentwood, which would push some of Tuxedo southward to take up some of Fort Whyte’s current territory. The new Fort Garry, robbed of the “planet” streets, would also snatch some of Fort Whyte’s current terrain. St. Norbert, with its below-quotient voting population, would also expand into Fort Whyte to ease some of the latter constituency's excess numbers.

North and west Winnipeg

The downtown portion of the old Fort Rouge riding may mean the revival of the old Broadway constituency, if it gets merged with the eastern part of Minto. That would mean Minto would get pushed westward into St. James which, along with Assiniboia, is slightly below quotient. As mentioned above, most inner city constituencies aren’t below quotient and so won’t be so much enlarged as shifted around.

An alternative for north Fort Rouge is to merge into the southern part of Point Douglas, the northern half of which would then get merged into some new redrawn versions of St. Johns, Burrows and Wellington. Wellington would then probably take part of Minto from the north, which would get several blocks of St. James in return. Overall, below-quotient Assiniboia, St. James, St. Johns and Inkster are likely to see some growth to balance the addition of Fort Rouge’s Downtown into its neighbours and the accommodation of over-quotient Kildonan.

Photo: Map of Winnipeg consituencies, from Election Manitoba's 2007 Statement of Votes, with arrows suggesting 2008 boundary movement.