Conservative MPs from Saskatchewan lined up to protest some proposed changes to the province’s electoral boundaries today.
Speaking before a senate hearing this morning, many said the plan would water down the strong agricultural voice the province has enjoyed for decades.
Northern Saskatchewan MP Rob Clarke also voiced his objection to the plan.
Clarke said the new boundaries would remove hundreds of people from his riding.
He accused the commission of “jerry-mandering” the process saying their plan would result in a major demographic shift in the population.
However, if changes are made, Clarke said he thinks the communities of Red Earth, Shoal Lake and Cumberland House should be dropped from the riding.
He believes it would make more sense for them to be included in a southern riding instead:
“And when you have communities in the eastern part of the province that get flooded out regularly on a year-by-year basis, are secluded because of either roads, floods or fires, it makes it very difficult for them to participate in any type of economic development. And when I see how northern Saskatchewan, especially in the central area, seeing what’s available to them when other communities don’t have those same avail-abilities, that’s when I get frustrated.”
Clarke says under the proposed changes, he would have to drive through two other ridings to access some of his own constituents.
Clarke was grilled by MP Nathan Cullen who brought up a letter Clarke recently wrote to the electoral commission.
In the letter he said “the proposed changes would make the riding population more homogeneous and decrease the influence of communities of interest. The already large percentage of First Nations has increased and it diminishes the influence of the rest of the communities.”
The committee heard that several letters had been written to the electoral commission objecting to those words, including one from Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.
Opposition MP Nathan Cullen read a letter from the chief which said Clarke’s plan seemed to suggest that the already-large percentage of First Nations in his riding is a problem that needs to be rectified.
Clarke denied that’s what he meant:
“No, what I’m hoping to say here is I represent all the constituents in northern Saskatchewan, from the Aboriginal to the non-Aboriginal. What I meant to say is Lac La Ronge is in central Saskatchewan, they don’t have the same barriers or challenges facing First Nations in the eastern part of the province.”
Clarke said Cook-Searson is entitled to her own opinion.
“However she has access to Cameco, she has access to Areva, major mining partnerships that would help benefit Lac La Ronge Indian Band. Now when we look at Red Earth, Shoal Lake and Cumberland House, they’re not part of that economic development plan whatsoever in northern Saskatchewan. That’s where the inequality takes place.”
Clarke also got into a testy exchange with Liberal MP Stephane Dion who said he thought Clarke would have to live with his words.