D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum says proposed changes to Quebec’s electoral map would compromise the rights of the Jewish and English-speaking communities.
Appearing at National Assembly committee public hearings on Sept. 15, Birnbaum called for the cancellation of modifications that would see the neighbouring West End ridings of Outremont and Mont Royal essentially merged into one, resulting in significant changes to D’Arcy McGee’s boundaries.
D’Arcy McGee currently includes Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Snowdon east to Décarie Boulevard. The Quebec Electoral Commission is proposing that the riding’s eastern border be extended to encompass all of the Snowdon and roughly one-third of the Côte des Neiges districts.
D’Arcy McGee has the highest number of Jewish voters in Quebec, who represent about half the population.
Birnbaum argued that the democratic rights of three “natural communities” – a term found in the Election Act – the Jewish, anglophone and senior citizens, would be “diluted” if the new boundaries are approved.
“The changes being proposed would have a pronounced and negative impact on the riding of D’Arcy McGee,” he stated. “I am very proud to be the MNA for all D’Arcy McGee residents, for those of all languages, all religions and all ages.
“But I am equally proud to be the sole MNA from Quebec’s Jewish community and keenly aware of the additional and solemn responsibility imposed upon me by that reality,” Birnbaum said.
“And I am respectful and proud of my obligation to give voice to the majority English-speaking community, as well as the particular and pressing concerns of the thousands of senior citizens who form a natural community in D’Arcy McGee.”
The expansion of D’Arcy McGee would add 14,000 voters to the current approximately 40,000.
He referred to the opinion submitted to the National Assembly committee by Université de Montréal law professor Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens, who holds that the modifications proposed could be unconstitutional because they have the effect of limiting the representation of minority communities.
Birnbaum told the commission that the electoral map changes undermine voters’ sense of identification with their riding and may not respect the extensive jurisprudence on electoral district division.
A final version of the electoral map is to be issued in February, following five days of debate in the National Assembly, and implemented immediately.
Under the Electoral Act, the Electoral Commission is required to review the electoral map every two elections.
Nine of the 27 Montreal ridings would be affected by the changes, and two new ridings would be created elsewhere in the province.
In a presentation before the committee in April 2015, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) opposed the rejigging of Outremont, Mont Royal and D’Arcy McGee.
The proposal would combine most of the current Outremont riding, which includes all of the borough of Outremont, as well as a part of the Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grâce borough, with the Mont Royal riding.
The new merged riding would be called Mont Royal-Outremont, and would have almost 56,000 voters.
CIJA noted that Mont Royal has a high proportion of ethnocultural communities, and dividing it would weaken their long-established link to the riding and, in some case, separate them from their institutions.
CIJA also criticized the population disparity of the province’s ridings because it favours smaller ridings.
“The guiding principle of the Supreme Court of Canada is that it should take approximately the same number of votes in each riding for a candidate to win, yet in reality [in Quebec] there are such wide discrepancies that this principle does not hold,” it stated.
Losing a riding in Montreal and adding two to the Laurentians/Lanaudière region would “reinforce the imbalance, giving more power to rural voters, while diminishing the voting power of those in the Mont Royal and Outremont districts…
“The 65 largest ridings in Quebec are mostly urban with large numbers of immigrants, minorities, allophone and anglophone populations. Taking away one riding from the Montreal region will further erode the weight of the votes of these groups who mostly reside in the greater Montreal area,” CIJA stated in its brief.
Moreover, the population of Montreal is going to grow faster relative to that in the regions over the next eight years, which would further diminish the city’s voice in the National Assembly, CIJA noted.
Côte St. Luc city council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the loss of the distinct ridings of Outremont, Mont Royal and D’Arcy McGee.
The resolution states that the changes would “compromise the electoral influence” of the English speakers, violate respect for “natural communities,” and “dilute the distinct character of the sociological and demographic natural communities” as they are now represented.