Pembroke – While the federal riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke may be no more under the final proposal for a redistribution of Ontario ridings, the boundaries of the old riding are staying the same and Greater Madawaska is still part of it.
“If we had changed to Lanark like it was proposed, for people who live in Griffith it would have been a two-hour drive to their MP,” Greater Madawaska (GM) Mayor Rob Weir pointed out.
A report was presented at Renfrew County council last Wednesday showing the new electoral districts proposed by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario. Among the 122 districts in Ontario is the riding to be known as Algonquin-Renfrew-Pembroke, replacing the old Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke.
The redistribution results in one more seat in Ontario since the last redistribution plan in 2012 but for many ridings the boundaries were slightly changed.
Locally, there had been a lot of pushback to the idea of removing GM from the riding and instead incorporating part of rural Ottawa into the new riding. Following public meetings, petitions and further analysis, the riding boundaries remained, although the name was changed.
“In the proposal, the commission had removed the Township of Greater Madawaska, separating it from the rest of Renfrew County,” the report from the commission noted. “We heard compelling submissions that this division compromised effective representation and would disrupt coherent communication with elected representatives and service delivery across Renfrew County.”
The report pointed out the name was changed in part because there is only a very small portion of Nipissing in the district.
“The new name also recognizes the importance of the Algonquin people’s history and presence in this region,” the report stated.
According to the background information, the commission did consider the value of established partnerships of municipalities, regions and counties.
“Municipal leaders – especially those in smaller municipalities – expressed concerns where the proposed redistribution plan split the community across districts, creating the additional burden of having to liaise with multiple elected representatives,” it was stated in the report.
“We are mindful that the alignment of federal boundaries with those of lower-level jurisdictions can help to facilitate more coordinated action among representatives at different levels in the advocacy, funding and delivery of complex services and in major economic development initiatives,” the report noted.
For GM, the importance of being a part of Renfrew County and included with the county in the riding was paramount and former Mayor Brian Hunt had spoken at county council urging support for the township’s stance. At the time, then Warden Debbie Robinson wrote a letter outlining the concerns, noting the fractioning of the district “would only serve to be detrimental to the effectiveness of coherent communication by our federally elected leaders and the service that they provide to all of the constituents.”
Last week, the new mayor of GM said people in the township did not want to see their municipality removed from the riding and added to another riding where there is little connection.
“We are so tied to Renfrew and Renfrew County,” Mayor Weir said during a break at Renfrew County council.
For those in the remote and more rural parts of the township, the connection with Renfrew County is where they shop, go for medical appointments and work. There had been strong opposition to removing GM from the riding, he said.
“Almost all our residents signed a petition,” he said. “We had the petitions everywhere. It was an overwhelming response.”
Knowing the municipality is staying within the federal electoral boundaries with the rest of the county just makes sense, Mayor Weir said.
“It is a natural fit,” the mayor said. “It should not change.”
The commission’s goal was to make the ridings more even in size, as well as add a new riding to Ontario. Ridings should have no more than 145,747 and no less than 87,443. However, the existing riding which encompasses the City of Pembroke, County of Renfrew, along with part of the territorial district of Nipissing, has a population of 107,420.
The new riding will be used for any federal election after April 2024.
The provincial government has not announced if it will follow along with the federal riding changes.
Gallant Opposes Name Change
When the changes were proposed, long-serving MP Cheryl Gallant urged those in the riding, especially those in Greater Madawaska Township, to make their opinions heard to the commission as quickly as possible.
“My position is it should be up to the people who live there,” she said at the time. “I would advise them to comment.”
In speaking to the Leader last week, she noted she is pleased the riding boundaries will stay the same.
“I think the vast majority of the people who gave input are very pleased,” she stated.
Municipal leaders, the county and the people of GM all worked together to appeal the redrawing of the boundary lines, she said.
However, Mrs. Gallant said she will be voicing another objection and wants to see the riding keep the name Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. She said introducing the name Algonquin does not make sense.
“Algonquin is a French-Canadian term used by the settlers here,” she said.
The word Nipissing was a word used by the Indigenous people in the area and is part of their language, so it is a better word to use if the desire is to honour and recognize the Indigenous heritage of the riding, she stressed. Instead of being a way of honouring the Indigenous population, it is more of the colonialist mentality by using a word they did not use to call themselves, she explained.
“We are replacing an Ojibwe word with a new name the French-Canadian settlers used,” she said. “It is defeating the real purpose.”
Mrs. Gallant said the name of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke does not need to be changed.
“I plan to appeal that and keep the local name,” she said. “All these words are French-Canadian words labelling the people here as opposed to using their words.”
The riding remains one of the largest in Ontario and encompasses 11,475 square kilometres. By contrast, the riding of Beaches-East York in Toronto, which has a population only slightly higher at 109,359 fits into 17 square kilometres. The riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming is almost 17,000 square kilometres, Parry Sound-Muskoka sits at 12,551 kilometres and in the North, Sault St. Marie-Algoma is over 40,000 square kilometres. The largest ridings geographically are Kapuskasing-Timmins-Mushkegowuk and Kenora-Kiwetinoong each at over 250,000 square kilometres.
The next step in the process is MPs can voice their objections and the representation order will be made in September. Mrs. Gallant noted she will be voicing her objections about the name change.
Chief Jocko Proud of Recognition
Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (AOPFN) Chief Wendy Jocko said she was very pleased to see the name Algonquin-Renfrew-Pembroke with recognition of Algonquin territory incorporated in the new name for the riding.
“Looking at the map, it is Algonquin territory,” she said.
She said having the name included is one more step in education which coincides with many other cultural and education initiatives locally and throughout the territory which have been occurring.
“It is about time it was recognized this is Algonquin territory,” she said.
As far as the name Algonquin is concerned, she noted she has considered herself an Algonquin all her life.
“I am not a language teacher or history buff, but that is clearly what we are called,” she said. “That is what we call ourselves. From a young child, I called myself an Algonquin.”
Chief Jocko said there are many opportunities for education and discussion and she welcomes this opportunity for non-Indigenous people learning more about the Algonquin people.
In speaking with the Leader, Cultural Coordinator Kevin Lamarr said Nipissing is not an Ojibwe word. He said while Algonquin is not a word in the Anishnabeemowin language, it was a term used by other Indigenous people. The word they would use to call themselves is the Anishinaabe or Omàmiwininì.
“That was too complicated for people to say, so people used the term Algonquin,” he said.
In his understanding, the word Algonquin is roughly translated as the spear from the bow of the canoe, he said.
“It is not a French word,” he said. “It is how we have been identifying ourselves for over 350 years.”
There is much more information at the Algonquin Way Cultural Centre (www.thealgonqinway.ca) about the Algonquin people, he added.
“That is who we are, Omàmiwininì,” he added. “We are Algonquin, and we identify as Algonquin.”