What makes a good electoral district? Not gerrymandering!

By DJ Kelly May 29, 2009

What makes a good electoral district? Why group these communities together and not these other ones?

This is something that has been debated at council and elsewhere for years. It’s something that will continue to be discussed. Is it better to create wards that are made up of communities with similar issues or to have wards that are similar to each other in that they have inner city neighbourhoods, suburbs, industrial areas, commercial properties, etc in one ward?

Generally speaking, I think the former is widely believed to be the better option because each alderman can clearly and quickly identify the needs of their ward and defend them at council. (This is what we currently have.) If the latter ward format is used the alderman will regularly find they have competing interests he/she must sort out among his/her constituents before bringing a proposal to council. This creates an added layer of red tape to the process most citizens would no doubt prefer to avoid.

Plus, there are naturally some communities that go should go together. They are neighbours in every sense of the word and the linkage between them should be fostered instead of broken.

This is where my major problem with the “Scenario D” map Calgary City Council approved this past week. I know Highland Park has already passed a resolution against the map because they feel orphaned. This is EXACTLY the same thing that members of the Winston Heights/Mountview CA board (of which I’m the president) feel. Details on why we feel that way can be found in my previous post but it all comes down to the fact from the eastern most house in my neighbourhood to the western most house in the next community to the east is 2.2km. If the creek, valley, two golf courses, two escarpments, or the six-lane provincial highway in that span is not a natural border appropriate for a ward boundary I don’t know what is.

And this is the rub of why I’ve previously called “Scenario D” ‘terrible’. There is no respect for physical boundaries in it. It appears as though the map was drawn with only the population numbers and politics in mind. Rivers, highways, expanses of open and industrial areas MUST be taken into consideration ABOVE politics.

Which takes me to my final, and most important, point: the egregious gerrymandering that is occurring in Calgary City Council right now.

It appears a majority of aldermen need to learn that when in the middle of a non-partisan activity you have mandated, you can NOT suddenly make a proposal of your own. That makes the process political, which is EXACTLY what you were trying to avoid in the first place.

The definition of gerrymandering is a process of redistricting that can be PERCEIVED as political. This is why Ald. Chabot – the man who created the “Scenario D” map – has even decried the process council is undertaking as gerrymandering. His complaint however is that it became gerrymandering when Administration asked council’s opinion in the first place. Which in my mind is akin to a child hitting another because “he started it”. It doesn’t make you right for committing the exact same wrong yourself.

Council has passed numerous calls for this kind of process to be conducted by an independent body. This is what was happening under the guidance of the Chief Electoral Officer until council disagreed with the proposal being put forward. Instead of turning down the proposal however, and asking for a new recommendation, they began making their own plans, which is where things quickly became textbook gerrymandering.

Perhaps another example will help illustrate my argument: Every so often council needs to review their pay. This process is usually fraught with perceived political conflicts of interest. So council outsources the job of coming up with the dollar amount they will take home annually to an independent organization. Now, when that independent group comes back with a proposal would Council say, “that’s no good! We should make between $80,000 and $90,000 per year. Go back and come up with another solution that falls into that range”? When the independent body comes back with the number of $84,000 would they then say, “that’s no good! Here’s my proposal: it should be $89,000”?

Of course not! Because that is ridiculous! Citizens would scream bloody murder! The media would be killing them in print!

And ridiculous is exactly what we’re getting with this process right now.

And please consider this post me screaming bloody murder.

All aldermen – and the mayor – need to take their hands off this process, stop making gerrymandered proposals, and respect the mandate they gave the Chief Electoral Officer previously by letting her do the job they asked her to do in the first place.