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John Ibbitson: Those who hold the key to the suburbs hold the key to Canada

The proposed riding boundaries for 15 new Ontario seats in the House of Commons reinforce a core political truth: Whichever party dominates the burgeoning edge cities surrounding Toronto governs Canada.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario released its proposed electoral map Monday, reflecting the 2011 census and a new federal law that expands the House of Commons by 30 seats, bringing it to 338.

All of the new Ontario seats are located in the Greater Toronto Area or in cities close to it, apart from one new seat for Ottawa.

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The new ridings speak to the new Canada: a country of fast-growing suburban communities with large immigrant populations.

"The new seats have gone where population growth has been highest," said Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the Mowat Centre, a think tank that focuses on Ontario.

He predicted that in the next election, "competition is going to be even more intense ... in the parts of suburban Canada that are heavily immigrant and heavily multicultural. The most important piece of that is the 905," which is the area code for the communities surrounding Toronto.

Representation in the Greater Toronto Area will go from 47 seats to 58 seats under the proposal. Virtually every new seat will be located in communities now represented by a Conservative MP.

The NDP or the Liberals must capture this vast suburban swathe, now set to boast even more seats, if the Conservatives are to be defeated.

The city of Brampton, on the western edge of Toronto, gets two new ridings, as does Durham Region on the city's eastern flank.

Other communities in Greater Toronto that benefit include Markham (two seats), Mississauga (one seat), York (one seat) and Oakville (one seat).

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Nearby Hamilton receives a seat, as does Barrie, north of Toronto, and the Cambridge area west of the GTA.

The city of Toronto receives two seats, both of them outside the downtown core where the opposition parties are strongest. Ottawa's expanding suburbs also receive a seat.

In Canada, 10 independent provincial electoral commissions working under the umbrella of Elections Canada propose changes to riding boundaries once every 10 years, after the census. The commissioners consider such factors as population shifts, historical attachments, municipal boundaries, geographic size in rural and remote ridings and "communities of interest."

The proposals will be subject to public hearings and scrutiny by a parliamentary committee, but the final decision lies with the commissioners.

"It was certainly more complex than the commission realized when we undertook the work," said Mr. Justice George Valin of the Ontario Superior Court, who chaired that province's commission. "But it was nonetheless fascinating work."

In Ontario's case, 10 northern ridings were preserved even though their populations are much smaller than urban ridings in the south.

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Electoral commissions have already proposed boundary changes to accommodate new seats in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, with most new seats going to Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal.

Critics had protested against expanding the size of the House, when most Canadians would prefer to see fewer politicians representing them rather than more.

But constitutional and legislative guarantees make it impossible to take ridings away from provinces such as Prince Edward Island, where there is little or no population growth. As a result, fast-growing urban areas are currently seriously underrepresented in the House. The additional seats will correct much of that imbalance.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More


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