There were two items that were very topical last week and I think will be talked about in the weeks to come that I wish to comment on this morning.
The first item is the growing displeasure with the Sask Party government’s attempts at gerrymandering the electoral system in Saskatchewan. If you remember last year, the Sask Party tried to get rid of Saskatchewan’s Chief Electoral Officer so that they would have their own appointee in place to bring in place legislation to change Saskatchewan’s electoral map. That effort failed. Now that the Sask Party has been re-elected, they are very quickly bringing in legislation to change not only the boundaries but also to add more MLAs and to change the way that the population quotient is arrived at for each riding. Right off the get go, let me say that I believe they have one thing right and that is only people eligible to vote should make up the population numbers for each electoral district. I have never agreed with putting non-voters in the mix ever since the NDP changed to that formula in 1994. The difference in population allowed between ridings should only be 5% so that all ridings in this province are created as close to equal as possible.
I also don’t believe that there should be two special ridings designated in northern Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan should be made up of 58 electoral districts – all with the same number of voters in each one. There will always be variances because of natural boundaries like major rivers and very clearly defined communities of interest to take into consideration but these things can be done and still keep the numbers very close.
The current system whereby each Party appoints a representative who then meets with a judge appointed from the Court of Queen’s Bench is not sufficiently impartial. No matter what judge is picked for this task, they are placed in the uncomfortable position of being confronted by a done deal once the two political hacks representing the Sask Party and the NDP have sat down and agreed to some type of boundary map. They will each have brought their special wants and considerations to the backroom meeting and once the horse trading is done, the judge is presented with a fete-a-complete. This is totally unacceptable.
The PC Party proposed in a news release last Friday that we should adopt the Manitoba system whereby a 5 person committee made up of an appointee of the Court of Queen’s Bench, the province’s Chief Electoral Officer, and in Saskatchewan’s case, the President of the University of Saskatchewan, the President of the University of Regina and the President of SIAST who would be advised by the people working for Elections Saskatchewan. In Manitoba’s case, they use their 3 university presidents or their designate. In Saskatchewan’s case, the PC Party has proposed that if one of the 3 presidents cannot serve because of resignation or illness, they would appoint a designate who would have to be accepted by a majority of the committee. None of the aforementioned people would be able to stand the public’s stigma of partisanship for one political party or another and still maintain their job. Saskatchewan must have a system of electoral boundaries design which follows the legislation and is open to all political parties in a way that is above reproach. We cannot afford a system which is morally reprehensible and only designed by whomever is currently sitting in the Legislative Assembly.
The Sask Party seems to be hoping that by using their massive majority in the first year of their mandate that they can ram these things through and hope that the voting public has forgotten their ulterior motives by the time the next election rolls around. I hope everyone take the time to remind them that this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable in today’s political world.
Just a quick note on the 2nd issue which I have already commented on, but an issue that is near and dear to people across this province and that is the PFRA tree farm at Indian Head. The province says they are concerned about this closure or privatization as Minister Ritz likes to think it is going to be. The province and SaskPower are currently growing trees at the Shand Power Station. This is an issue which is so crucial to many parts of Saskatchewan that I believe in the face of the Feds walking away that it would be entirely reasonable for the Government of Saskatchewan to at least be an operating partner with whoever else potentially steps up to be in the tree business. The long-term well being of our environment demands this type of due diligence. This is not just about farmers getting free trees for farmsteads and shelter belts. This is much bigger and deserves more forethought than what Gerry Ritz and his bureaucrats have put into this one.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.