Since the last census in 2001, Saskatchewan’s population has increased by more than five per cent, with most of that growth in its two largest cities. Saskatoon alone grew by nearly 13 per cent.
This significant population change and concentration makes a recent federal commission report all the more timely.
Recommending three urban-only ridings for Saskatoon and two for Regina, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of Saskatchewan’s report is an important step toward what many urban Saskatchewan residents — especially the students who tend to cluster in the university and downtown areas — have long desired.
Breaking these ridings up will allow better representation of urban and rural concerns in Parliament. And as the commission itself found, “Saskatchewan’s four fastest-growing electoral districts over the past decade were all of the mixed urban-rural variety.”
Urban voters in Saskatchewan are likely to share more with other urban voters than with the rural population in their province. While the lure of regionalism is strong, urbanization has historically proven more attractive, and there is no reason to think this does not apply to voting.
Rural voters likewise deserve Members of Parliament devoted to their concerns. While urban voters likely don’t want a politician representing them to take up agriculture or resource development as a pet cause, rural voters probably do. The proposed change to Saskatchewan ridings will allow both urban and rural voters to have their concerns taken up with dedicated focus.
There is a widespread belief among non-Conservative voters in Saskatoon that the only thing standing between us and three or four NDP MPs is the fact that each urban riding is actually a mix of urban and rural voters. This may not be true — even in Saskatoon, every election sees a fair number of blue Conservative signs alongside the orange NDP and the smattering of Green Party signs.
But even in Edmonton, long considered a lock for the Conservatives, an NDP MP was elected in 2011. More urban ridings in the prairies means that it will be less likely the Conservative Party will win all of them, and even if they do, it will probably not be by the ludicrously wide margins they are accustomed to now. It will also be a reflection of urban voters’ wishes.
Dividing Saskatoon and Regina into urban ridings will help to break down the myth that the prairies are a solid three-province block of blue. That myth is especially strange given Saskatchewan’s status as the birthplace and political home of Canada’s best-known socialist, Tommy Douglas, and as an early stronghold of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, better known as the CCF. Saskatchewan has deep roots in Canada’s rich socialist tradition, and it is disappointing to see electoral boundaries enabling the Conservatives to effectively erase that history.
The report of the electoral boundaries commission is important and its recommendation, if made into policy, should have some very exciting implications for Saskatchewan in the next federal election.
Map: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf