Every 10 years, Elections Canada is obliged by law to redistribute the boundaries of federal electoral districts (ridings) to address changes in local populations across the country.
A boundary commission is struck in each province and these commission are non-partisan, an important distinction from the process followed in the United States, where electoral boundaries are set by local politicians.
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for B.C. recently tabled the penultimate draft of its proposed changes to the electoral map. Surprisingly, this draft was radically different from the first draft, significantly affecting the boundaries of (the South Okanagan- West Kootenay) riding.
Unfortunately, there is no opportunity for direct public input at this stage.
I’d like to outline how we got to this point, present some of the details of the proposed changes and provide an opportunity for feedback of any local concerns.
The commissions consider a number of factors in their decisions, the most obvious of which is to ensure the population of each riding comes as close as possible to the provincial average. In BC’s case, the average is 116,600 people per riding.
Just as important is that they must also take into account social and economic relationships between communities, geographical barriers and the history of past electoral boundaries.
Because of recent population growth, the B.C. commission had to add one new riding to the province and it decided to centre that new riding on Vernon. That addition caused a ripple effect of necessary changes to the ridings in the central Okanagan, Shuswap and surrounding areas.
One of the suggestions in the 2022 draft involved changing the riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay by splitting Penticton in two, the west half going to a riding including West Kelowna and the east half remaining with the south Okanagan. There was significant public concern about that proposal and numerous groups and individuals made presentations to that effect in the extensive public input process that took place in 2022.
Since the eastern part of South Okanagan-West Kootenay remained untouched, there were essentially no comments or input from the West Kootenay in response to the first draft.
The boundary commission’s second draft showed it listened to the residents of Penticton and kept that community whole, but that news was overshadowed by drastic changes elsewhere in the riding. The entire Similkameen Valley was added on the west, the Arrow Lakes and Slocan Valley were moved into the new Vernon riding, and two parts of the West Kootenay were removed and added to the East Kootenay riding. As well, the ski resort of Big White was moved into the Kelowna riding.
So how do these changes meet the mandate of the commission? Well, they hit the population target of 116,000 bang on—well within the 25 percent margin allowed. The addition of the Similkameen to the south Okanagan riding makes sense from a social, economic, and historical context. Big White is obviously closely tied to Kelowna (and conversely, the addition of the Similkameen finally moves Apex into the same riding as Penticton).
But I’m hearing a lot of concern about some of the changes in the West Kootenay. For instance, Montrose and Fruitvale are essentially part of Trail, but the proposal separates them from that community and moves them into the East Kootenay. Castlegar neighbourhoods just outside the official city limits are cut off from their community in a similar manner.
The commission’s task is a difficult one, but I’m hoping it can address these concerns in the final decision, expected next spring.
The only official avenue for input now is my ability as an MP to present concerns to the House of Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which can pass them on with recommendations to the commission.
I have started conversations with elected officials throughout the riding on this issue but would like to hear from anyone with comments or concerns about these boundary changes. Please email me at [email protected].
More information, and the commission’s full report, can be found at https://redecoupage-redistribution-2022.ca.
Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.