Changes to electoral map would compromise rights of English-speaking, Jewish communities

David Birnbaum, MNA for D'Arcy McGee

David Birnbaum, MNA for D’Arcy McGee

 

David Birnbaum, MNA for D’Arcy-McGee, argued before the Commission de l’Assemblée nationale today that proposed changes to Québec’s electoral map would compromise the democratic rights of three ‘natural communities’ within the riding – English-speaking, Jewish and senior citizens – by diluting their numbers within new riding borders.

“The changes being proposed would have a pronounced and negative impact on the riding of D’Arcy-McGee,” Birnbaum noted. “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 Québec’s Jewish community and keenly aware of the additional and solemn responsibility imposed upon me by that reality. 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 wide-ranging proposal from the Commission de la représentation électorale would extend D’Arcy-McGee’s borders to include all of Snowdon district as well as roughly one-third of Côte-des-Neiges district. It would add 14,000 voters to the riding. The proportion of Jewish residents in those additional areas is only one-third of that in D’Arcy-McGee as it stands; the proportion of English-speaking residents only one-half.

Birnbaum referred frequently to a legal opinion on the changes submitted to the Commission de l’Assemblée nationale by Université de Montréal Law professor Jean-François Gaudreault-DesBiens. That opinion suggests that many of the changes proposed could be unconstitutional in that they compromise the principle of effective representation and could have the effect of limiting the democratic representation of minority communities. Birnbaum also called for the reversal of the proposed merging of neighboring Mont-Royal and Outremont ridings, for similar reasons.

He concluded the presentation by listing the guiding principles for electoral change. “Adherence to these principles should be clear in each of the Commission’s proposed changes:

  • Voter confidence: is the voter’s understanding of the electoral map, identification to the riding and access to the right to vote reinforced or strengthened by these changes?
  • Is the equitable weight of each vote protected by the change?
  • Have the caution and judgment prescribed by the Canadian and Québec Charters of Rights and Freedoms and the extensive jurisprudence been duly respected by these changes?

“With all due respect,” Birnbaum told Commission President François Ouimet, “the answer to these three questions is ‘no’.”

Following a five-day debate in the National Assembly, a final version of the electoral map will be issued in February 2017 and implemented immediately. Birnbaum expressed cautious optimism that the modifications to D’Arcy-McGee and surrounding ridings would be reversed. He was one of 37 Liberal MNAs to appear before the Commission.