[UPDATED: Sept. 17, 2018] James Battershill already had concerns about the Manitoba Electoral Divisions Boundaries Commission.
According to the general manager of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) it ignored rural concerns by recommending there be one less rural seat in the Legislative Assembly. And then it held public consultations during harvest — farmers busiest time of the year.
“You’re removing a rural seat and you’re doing the consultation for it during harvest? Come on,” Battershill said. “This is kindergarten level stuff when working with farmers. Important consultation, don’t hold them during harvest.”
Commission chair, Richard Chartier, who is also Chief Justice of Manitoba, said timing of the review is dictated by the Electoral Divisions Act, but was delayed by a by-election.
“Mr. Battershill my four grand parents were Red River Valley farmers,” Chief Justice Chartier said based on a recording provide by the commission. “I know exactly what you’re saying.”
Battershill said he was also surprised the chair interrupted him while he tried to present KAP’s position at a public hearing in Winnipeg Sept. 10.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years now,” Battershill said in an interview Sept. 12, referring to presenting KAP’s position to committees. “In the dozens, if not hundreds by now submissions… I have never started reading a prepared presentation and had the chair interrupt (twice) and start arguing with me midway through. And it happened in this case. I was quite taken aback that commission chair really started to get into it with me before I even had a chance to get through my page and a half of written remarks.”
Chartier, while not disrespectful was defensive, Battershill said, when KAP challenged the commission’s interim report and backed up this argument pointing to a Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
There was tension in the room and Battershill assumes the commission had received an earful from other presenters ahead of him.
“It was maybe inappropriate for a chair to be abusing the chair’s power and authority in that way,” Battershill said.
“They (commission members) should be listening. They should not be arguing with presenters about things.
“The consultation in the public forums should be the opportunity for people to have their say and give them their information that should be considered.”
Battershill, however, didn’t reveal his displeasure at the time.
“Are you OK with the exchange we had?” Chief Justice Chartier asked Battershill.
“Absolutely,” Battershill replied.
“So am I,” Chief Justice Chartier said.
“But again you will certainly be hearing from my members,” Battershill added.
“We look forward to that,” Chief Justice Chartier replied.
The commission’s five members have been selected because of the positions they hold as prescribed under the Electoral Divisions Act and include in addition to the Chief Justice, the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manitoba and Manitoba’s Chief Electoral Officer.
The intent is to make the commission independent of political partisanship and avoid gerrymandering.
“I’m worried the consultation — they may not be going into them with open ears as they should be,” Battershill. “Because at the end of the day this is about how citizens are electing the people that are supposed to be listening to them and carrying their wishes forward to government. If the consultation itself isn’t really receptive to people’s feedback then I hope it’s not an exercise that’s just for show.”
Chief Justice Chartier told Battershill: “We are all ears.
“If you do have concerns, as you do, please give us the path to solutions in terms of how we can address that.”
Battershill said he’s passionate about effective democracy in part because that’s key to KAP’s operation.
“I think that may be why this is touching a chord with some of our members and us as an organization,” he said. “A shift away from that and an undermining of those democratic principles is the antithesis of what we stand for as an organization.”