THUNDER BAY — Northern Ontario's members of parliament are preparing to release a joint letter expressing concern over the draft plan to restructure federal riding boundaries across the North.
Patty Hajdu, the Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, and Marcus Powlowski, the Liberal member for Thunder Bay-Rainy River, confirmed Wednesday that they are among the signatories to the letter addressed to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario.
It's expected to be made public shortly.
The electoral boundaries commission recently proposed a reduction of the region's representation in parliament from 10 ridings to nine, by eliminating Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing and splitting it between two neighbouring ridings.
Northern Ontario has already lost two ridings since 1974 due to redistribution and its low rate of population growth relative to other parts of the province.
Hajdu – the minister of Indigenous Services – said she worries about "the huge geographical swath" of some of the new ridings that would be created by the redrawing of boundaries.
"Certainly it is about service to constituents," she told TBnewswatch in an interview.
"It is a challenge for MPs to do community work when they [serve] such a large area. That really is at the root of my concern. It is about the adequacy of representation."
Under the draft proposal, Thunder Bay-Rainy River would be enlarged to take in the Kenora and Red Lake areas.
The remaining section of the existing Kenora riding would form part of a new, sparsely-populated riding taking in remote Indigenous communities between Manitoba and Quebec.
"Look at that new northern riding," Hajdu said. "It is extremely vast. It would require extraordinary resources just to cover, and extraordinary amounts of time to get from one end of the province to the other."
Powlowski, who has previously spoken out against further enlarging ridings such as his own, noted Wednesday that he spent about 12 hours on the road the previous day to travel to and from the Morson area near Lake of the Woods where he took part in a government announcement.
He believes the Electoral Boundaries Commission has failed in its obligation to take geography and community of interest into account.
"Northern Ontario is getting a bit screwed" as a result, Powlowski said.
He hopes there's still time to get the commission to change its plan.
The commission, which has no representative from Northern Ontario, is collecting public input before it finalizes its recommendations.
It will hold a series of in-person and virtual hearings over the next two months, but no in-person hearing is planned for Thunder Bay.
Sessions are scheduled for Kenora and for Sioux Lookout, while a joint virtual hearing for residents of Northern Ontario, Eastern Ontario and Ottawa will take place on Oct. 26.
Hajdu said "There must be opportunities to present, and there are. I'll make sure constituents know the variety of different ways that they can present concerns. There are online ways. Obviously we want to make sure they have an opportunity to be heard in this process. It is about democracy and it's extremely important."
Individuals wishing to participate in the consultation process must complete a Public Hearing Participation Form by Sept. 25.
More information is available online.
The Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association has not commented on the restructuring proposal as yet.
But FONOM, its counterpart in Northeastern Ontario, is reportedly calling on the Electoral Boundaries Commission to retain 10 northern ridings.