Principles and Gerrymanders: Parliamentary Redistribution of Ridings in Ontario, 1840-1954.

Author:Sholdice, Mark
Position::Book review

Principles and Gerrymanders: Parliamentary Redistribution of Ridings in Ontario, 1840-1954. George Emery. McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 2016, 332 pp.

In Principles and Gerrymanders, historian George Emery outlines Ontario's parliamentary redistributions, on both the federal and provincial levels, from the 1840s to 1960s. Politicians themselves carried out changes to electoral districts until that responsibility was assigned to by-partisan legislative committees in the early-twentieth-century, and thereafter to an independent provincial commission in 1962, and a federal one in 1964. Emery defines a "gerrymander" as "a redistribution of two or more ridings that unfairly benefit the government party." The term originated with a blatantly partisan redistribution of Massachusetts' legislative districts in 1812, which was approved by state governor Elbridge Gerry.

The author's major achievement is to demonstrate that partisan gerrymandering was not widespread in Ontario riding redistributions in the nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century. Instead, the practice was used by government parties in very specific ways: to target individual opposition members (i.e. "political assassination"), to maintain small but pro-government ridings, and to redistribute areas of opposition support in order to maximize the number of winnable government ridings (i.e. "hiving").

Emery also helpfully defines several commonly-held principles in Ontario's political culture towards parliamentary redistricting, such as the belief that municipalities should be kept intact, or the consensus that urban voters should be underrepresented vis-a-vis rural ones (this practice is called "passive gerrymandering" when it is allowed to continue, despite population changes between ridings). These principles could often come into conflict with each other, especially the ideal of population equality between ridings (i.e. "representation by population"). With this nuanced conceptual framework, Emery shows that Ontario's politicians acted in a specific cultural and political context and could not undertake gerrymanders in any way they wished.

Principles and Gerrymanders relies on a very careful analysis of election results, down to the township level. The book's method is to review the principles underlying each redistribution of Ontario's federal and provincial ridings, to determine if gerrymandering took place, and to use changes in vote totals at the local level to judge...

To continue reading