Small towns and farmers are the heart of the province

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a longish story about the origins of this blog. It started a week ago when I listened to an interview on CBC radio. Gerald Pilon noted that Saskatoon and Regina were the only major urban areas in Canada that did not have their federal riding boundaries within their city limits. Instead, Saskatoon and Regina have the four ridings that include the city and a really large portion of the surrounding rural areas. I did not know that.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission is an independent body (actually 10 of them – one for each province) which redraws the boundaries of federal ridings after every census. According to the man on the radio, when the commission drew boundaries in 2002-03, those who attended the hearings in Saskatchewan said they wanted to keep the rural-urban boundaries. I have no idea if there was any public opposition. The activities of the 2004 Commission are nicely set out on a web site: Federal Representation 2004.

There is a moderately complicated formula that determines how many seats are allocated to each province – you can look at it here. Once the number of seats for each province is determined, that number divides the total provincial population in order to determine the quotient. In 2004 Saskatchewan got 14 seats and it’s quotient was just under 70,000. The big four provinces (Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia) have quotients in the range of  100,000. Prince Edward Island’s is 33,000. The rest hover around 70,000 – although Saskatchewan’s is the second smallest number. You can guess the size of the electorate in each of the three northern territories. Although we want to retain the regional character of Canada, I’m not sure this is democratic. As usual, this disparity is the result of regionalism and good old Canadian compromise.

The Commission did a really nice job of distributing the population fairly – including Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, a huge riding that takes up the northern half of the province. Then can work with a number that is plus or minus 20% of the quotient, but in this case stayed under 5%. I’ve highlighted the two cities in color.

Riding
Population (2006) Electors Area km
Battlefords—Lloydminster 71,184 51,039 32,887
Cypress Hills—Grasslands 60,551 44,479 74,840
Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River 67,937 43,160 347,266
Yorkton—Melville 66,094 51,444 38,027
Prince Albert 71,159 51,707 14,872
Souris—Moose Mountain 63,238 46,796 40,626
Palliser 65,956 50,094 7,778
Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre 65,885 49,937 14,365
Regina—Qu’Appelle 66,698 48,075 12,750
Wascana 75,717 57,746 3,858
Blackstrap 76,273 59,797 11,157
Saskatoon—Humboldt 75,051 56,377 12,229
Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar 69,547 49,314 11,088
Saskatoon—Wanuskewin 72,867 55,327 10,466

Now I come to  my question: was the occasional futility I felt voting in my constituency (Saskatoon Wanuskewin) necessary. This is based on the assumption I wasn’t going to vote Conservative and would vote NDP. For Saskatoon in particular, was their a difference in voting patterns? Elections Canada makes available the poll results for every constituency in Canada. As of now, the 2008 results are the most recent. The 2011 results will be made available in less than two weeks. Get your own data files here.

I took the data for each of the Saskatoon ridings in 2008 and roughly classified the polls as urban or rural. There are a number of “gotchas” – advance, out of the province, etc. polls that are hard to classify. However, their numbers are relatively small. Here are rough analyses: Dundurn, Saskatoon Humboldt, Saskatoon Rosetown Biggar and Saskatoon Wanuskewin. I also looked at the combined rural urban figures for the whole city.

Let’s be clear. I make no pretense to academic rigor. I’d be very interested in seeing such, but with a cursory look, I’ll have to keep digging for other analyses (any suggestions?). However, I do understand the basic proposition for statistically based research in the Social Sciences: all results are suggestive not authoritative. You can only make informed guesses. Add in on-the-street details and you have some basis for planning.

My rough guess based on the numbers is that, if Saskatoon had three urban ridings in the 2008 federal election, the NDP might only have won one. The Conservatives didn’t likely have a 51% vote in the other two, but vote splitting between by Liberals and Green parties meant the NDP didn’t come close. From the numbers, my vote didn’t feel quite as futile. By the way, the root cause of my futility really didn’t have anything to do with the numbers – it was caused by my unwillingness to do anything about it. You shouldn’t complain if you don’t get involved.

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