Ontario created two new ridings, Kiiwetinoong and Mushkegowuk-James Bay, in the far reaches of Northwest and Northeast Ontario by passing the Representation Statute Law Amendment Act on October 24th.
The creation of the two new ridings is intended to improve representation for those living in the province’s northernmost communities including First Nations.
Supposed to increase Indigenous representation
“Today is an important step forward for Northern Ontario, and for our election system across the province. Ontario’s far North and Indigenous communities bring a unique perspective that needs to be heard in the provincial legislature. I am confident that these new ridings will go a long way to strengthen that voice,” said Attorney General Yasir Naqvi
The changes will also alter the existing boundaries for Kenora-Rainy River and Timmins-James Bay.
Because of the legislation creating the two new ridings, there will be four ridings in Northern Ontario, where once there were two massively large ridings of Kenora-Rainy River and Timmins-James Bay.
The new ridings will be in place for the scheduled 2018 election on June 7, 2018, and increases the number of ridings in Ontario from 122 to 124.
Commission examined options
In arriving at the decision to create the ridings of Kiiwetinoong, the Wynne government mandated a five-person commission headed by Judge Joyce Pelletier of Thunder Bay.
The mandate of the commission came from the Ontario Representation Act.
The purpose of creating the two new ridings was to increase representation for First Nations and Indigenous people.
“Enhanced political representation for Indigenous peoples in Ontario’s political system is a necessary component of the broader movement toward reconciliation,” said David Zimmer, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “I am confident the new electoral boundaries in Northern Ontario will enable Indigenous voters in those ridings to have a greater voice in issues relevant to them.”
Kiiwetinoong riding meets objective
While the riding of Kiiwetinoong clearly meets that goal because its population is composed of 68 percent indigenous people, the riding of Mushkegowuk-James Bay has a 60 percent francophone population and only a 27 percent indigenous composition.
The Far North Electoral Boundaries Commission was created on May 1 and undertook a whirlwind two-stage consultation in May and June to come up with preferred options. The second phase took place early July and tested public reaction to the proposed two new ridings.
Communities consulted included: Wabaseemoong First Nation, Kenora, Wabauskang First Nation, Dryden, Timmins, Smooth Rock Falls, Kapuskasing, Constance Lake First Nation, Hearst, Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Eabametoong First Nation, Fort Severn First Nation, Attawapiskat First Nation, Moose Cree First Nation, Fort Albany First Nation, and Grassy Narrows First Nation.
There have been complaints of the rushed public consultation and the fact that only 91 people out of a population of 100,000 attended the various meetings held in May, June and July.
That criticism was one reason that led to the legislative committee reviewing the legislation to hold public hearings in Moose Factory in October 2017. Moose Factory is the seat of the Mushkegowuk Council representing seven Cree Nations, four of which are located along the James Bay coast – Attawapiskat, Kashechewan, Fort Albany and Moose Factory.
Taykwa Tagamou (north of Cochrane) would be included in the new riding, but Chapleau Cree (Chapleau) and Missanabie (Missanabie) are located too far south and would be excluded from the Mushkegowuk James Bay riding.
Mushkegowuk-James riding criticized
Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon has been a strong critic of the boundaries for Mushkegowuk- James Bay.
The seven First Nations of the Mushkegowuk Council, at their annual meeting in September in Cochrane, Ontario voted to demand the Ontario government delay approving the boundaries for Mushkegowuk-James Bay and go back to the drawing board.
At one point during the summer, Grand Chief Solomon questioned why the province even bothered to name the riding Mushkegowuk-James Bay when most voters were located along the Highway 11 corridor encompassing Hearst, Kapuskasing and Cochrane.
“We are flattered that you chose the name of traditional territories as the name for the proposed riding,” Solomon told the Legislative Committee. “But I sure hope the people living along the Highway 11 corridor don’t consider them to belong to the Mushkegowuk people because they are not.”
“Governments talk about reconciliation, but this is not reconciliation. This is staying the same course, and that is, telling us that “We know better. We know what’s best for you,” Grand Chief Solomon stated before the committee. “It’s a missed opportunity for our people, for our region,” Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon said. “It was a good thing when they began to look at creating ridings in the north, now you look at the map, what chances are there for a First Nation to be at the legislature when First Nations people are a minority?”
Supreme Court ruling
One of the restrictions that the Far North Electoral Boundary Commission faced in drawing the boundaries for the new ridings was a Supreme Court of Canada Ruling in 1991 mandating fairness and equality in the population size of ridings. The court ruled that ridings could not deviate by more than 15 percent of the median population size for electoral ridings.