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Prince Edward Island's government could soon be fighting two lawsuits after it discarded two electoral boundary redistributions to approve a third map commissioned and paid for by the ruling Conservative Party.

Outraged PEI citizens accuse the government of manipulating boundaries to shore up the rural vote -- where Conservative support is greatest -- but the government has defended the triple play, saying it was the only way to address the growing urban-rural split.

Most of the action centres on Charlottetown, where local lawyer Jane Ralling last week filed a legal notice that gives her 90 days to take the province to court, demanding it explain what she calls "a blatant gerrymander."

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And if a meeting between Premier Pat Binns and Charlottetown City Council on Wednesday fails to produce boundary changes, council says it will launch legal action of its own.

"I'm a great believer in treating people as equally as we possibly can," Ms. Ralling said this week. "I'm fed up with being abused by governments bending the rules or just avoiding the law entirely. They've abused their powers and they've done it simply to attempt to keep themselves in power."

PEI required a boundary review after the last provincial election. On Jan. 5, 2004, Mr. Justice John McQuaid was put in charge of the review, aided by representatives chosen by each party: John Mitchell and Roberta Hubley. After 17 public hearings and an interim report, the final review was handed to the province on Oct. 5, 2004.

But nothing happened until early 2006, when a government committee was established to review that report.

The Liberals labelled the move political interference and refused to take part. A Conservatives-only committee was then formed, held six public meetings and asked Elections PEI to draw up a new boundary map. Chief Electoral Officer Lowell Croken said the request was "very unusual," but the department did as requested. The resulting map did not differ greatly from the McQuaid report.

The Conservatives then hired former chief electoral officer Merrill Wigginton to draw up a third map. That third, Conservative-funded map was passed by a special summer sitting of the assembly on June 28 after the Liberals walked out in protest.

Conservative MLA Cletus Dunn, whose district paid the bill for the last map, denied any wrongdoing.

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"The people of PEI spoke and said they weren't happy with the commissioned report. We thought we should take it another step," Mr. Dunn said.

"We don't need an excuse [to disregard the McQuaid report] We're responsible to the people of the province. We are the legislating body. We're the ultimate responsibility for all acts. We haven't broken any laws."

Liberal Opposition Leader Robert Ghiz accused the government of holding the province to ransom for its own political gain.

"This has left a bad taste in many people's mouths. I was quite embarrassed by the whole process. I think it's a blemish on PEI's history," Mr. Ghiz said.

Mitchell Tweel, chairman of Charlottetown council's intergovernmental affairs committee, said the new map "undermines fundamental principles of democracy" and left Charlottetown residents underrepresented.

Fellow councillor Bruce Garritty said the city would not hesitate to go to court.

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"We've got 25 per cent of the population. We should have 25 per cent of the MLAs. . . . It's not a fight between country and city. It's about parity," he said.

The issue has dumbfounded University of PEI political scientist Peter McKenna, who labelled the government's actions "quite bizarre and quite backward."

"I have not heard or seen anything of this variety take place in any province of Canada. The whole process has a black cloud over it that's not going away any time soon." Redrawing PEI's electoral map

A Charlottetown lawyer and Charlottetown City Council are threatening to take Prince Edward Island's Conservative government to court, alleging successive revisions to the province's electoral boundaries map - the last one paid for by the Conservative Party itself - are a blatant attempt to gerrymander provincial ridings to shore up the rural vote.

First revision

The results of the boundary review supervised by Mr. Justice John McQuaid was handed to the province on Oct. 5, 2004.

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Second revision

After establishing a government committee to review the first electoral-map revision, a Conservatives-only committee asked Elections PEI to draw up a new boundary map. this report was filed on June 9, 2006.

Third revision

This Conservative-funded electoral map, drawn up by former chief electoral officer Merrill Wigginton, was passed by a special summer sitting of the assembly on June 28.

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