Dear Nickel Belt,
On February 10th, the Federal Electoral Commission released its highly anticipated final report for the Province of Ontario. The report highlights impactful changes for Northern Ontario.
As a result of the changes, Northern Ontario will effectively lose a representative in the House of Commons. It will also dramatically change the landscape of the Nickel Belt riding and be renamed
While I was initially frustrated and disappointed when the report first came out, it has given me a better understanding of the challenges the three commissioners had before them. Unlike the United States, Elections Canada is required by law to consult every riding in an arms length fashion from both the current government and all political parties every ten years.
This year, the commission was tasked with adding only one additional seat for the entire province of Ontario. This contrasts with having a mandate of adding an additional 15 seats in 2012. This was clearly not an easy task.
However once again, Northeastern Ontario was sacrificed in favour of a growing population in Southern Ontario. Northwestern Ontario was spared, maintaining the three seats that it previously held.
I sympathise with the constituents & organizations who voiced their disappointment over the final report. As someone who was born and raised in Nickel Belt, having lived in rural areas like Chelmsford, Verner and Field, I’ve seen and experienced firsthand that rural areas in Northern Ontario have very different needs than our Southern urban neighbours.
As a past chair of the National Liberal Rural Caucus and Northern Ontario Caucus, its clear that large urban cities dominate the decision making in Canada and this can often cause rural areas, specifically in Northern Ontario, to feel left out. Despite this, I know that government can make a difference and we must keep fighting to have our voices heard. It is for this reason that I intend to object to the newly proposed changes, along with other of my Northern Ontario colleagues.
The Nickel Belt region had one of the highest number of submissions to the Federal Electoral Commission in the province. Most of the submissions were in opposition to the commissions proposed boundary changes. Once again, I wish to offer my sincere thanks to the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM), the Sudbury East Municipal Association (SEMA), l’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO), Carrefour francophone, the regional Chambers of Commerce, the City of Greater Sudbury, all Nickel Belt municipalities, francophone organizations, first nations as well as numerous individuals, for providing your feedback to the commission.
I encourage constituents to read pages 30 to 45 of the report, where the Commission acknowledged Nickel Belt’s unique attributes based on feedback received. As a result, the Commission made some concessions to their initial proposal to reflect this. However, while these amendments are welcomed, they still don’t meet the needs of the countless constituents who have voiced their opposition to these changes. Ultimately, the revised boundaries leave our region at a disadvantage and is not a good outcome for Northern Ontario.
I am grateful that the commission did pay attention to the echoes of the francophone communities and the various francophone organizations in Nickel Belt-Greater Sudbury. Some areas have remained united under the new proposed boundaries, including West Nipissing, which was previously not included in the initial proposal.
Despite that win, I have heard from residents in Wanup, Wahnapitae, Coniston, Garson, Falconbridge and Skead who are unhappy about their communities being shifted to the Sudbury riding. Once again excluding the francophone residents within those communities, particularly in Coniston and Garson. The commission finalized the report with new mapping despite receiving a joint opposition letter from Ward 9 Councillor Deb Macintosh and former Ward 8 Councillor Mike Jakubo. Most concerningly, the changes set a dangerous precedent which could see provincial boundaries reduced in the future as well. I remain convinced that certain improvements could be made to take full account of this official language minority community (OLMC). Within the new boundaries, Manitoulin Island and Espanola have a larger English-speaking population than Nickel Belt. The addition of these predominantly English- speaking regions will result in the new riding having a smaller French-speaking population, with a reduction from 35% to 31%, a significant decrease and, consequently, the services offered to the communities will be impacted.
It is clear the French language has experienced a significant decline in Canada and in Northern Ontario between 2016 and 2021. Data on language from the 2021 census, presented by Statistics Canada, show an obvious decrease in the number of Francophones and their demographic weight in the region. The proposed riding boundaries as depicted in the final report, will have a smaller proportion of Francophones compared to the current Nickel Belt riding. Further emphasising the risk to French language services offered in the affected communities. We cannot remain indifferent to this situation, we must all rally together to secure our Francophone heritage.
With Northern Ontario losing a seat in the House of Commons, rural MP’s will be immensely challenged to have the ability to serve such vast ridings, particularly with limited time in their constituencies versus Parliamentary obligations. For instance, the proposed Nickel Belt-Manitoulin riding will extend over 400km, about a four-hour drive. This comes at a time where we have a high population of elderly residents, connectivity challenges in some rural communities and an uncertain economy.
Lastly, the commission must not forget that Northern Ontario is home to a large proportion of Ontario’s Indigenous population. They are rightfully demanding more accountability, commitment, and support from the federal government. As the Ontario Government did during the 2017 provincial boundary review, I too will be advocating for a pre-consultation with the large number of First Nations and Métis communities in the province. I will be including this recommendation within my objection in hopes that the Indigenous communities in Nickel Belt have an equal say in the boundary redistribution process.
Marc G. Serré MP for Nickel Belt
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Official Languages