In late July, the federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia submitted its final report outlining the new boundaries of federal electoral districts in this province.
I covered earlier draft reports of this commission in a previous column, but I felt it would be good to go over the final outcome as there are substantial changes to the electoral map of B.C.
Every 10 years, Elections Canada takes the data from the most recent census and undertakes a process to assign new seats to provinces that have grown in population, and redraws the boundaries of electoral districts (commonly known as ridings) to ensure there is fair representation from across the country in the House of Commons.
This time, Elections Canada assigned one new riding for British Columbia, and appointed a three-member non-partisan commission to take on the difficult task of deciding where to put that riding and to redraw the boundaries of existing ridings to accommodate the changing population of the province.
It decided to place the new riding around Vernon and came out with its first draft of new boundaries about a year ago. A lengthy public consultation process followed, including town halls around the province, to allow citizens to comment on the boundaries of the ridings. That first draft changed the riding of South Okanagan-West Kootenay by carving off the west half of Penticton and adding the east half of the Similkameen Valley.
There was considerable opposition to this plan from residents of Penticton, the Similkameen and members of Penticton Indian Band, with all groups obviously concerned that their areas should not be divided.
Earlier this year the commission tabled its second draft, which contained drastic changes from the first. Penticton was made whole again and the entire Similkameen added to the riding, successfully dealing with the concerns heard in the public meetings and the written briefs.
But to accommodate this addition of population, several areas in the eastern half of the riding were removed and added to neighbouring ridings. The eastern Arrow Lakes, including Nakusp, and the entire Slocan Valley were added to the new Vernon-Monashee riding, while suburbs of Castlegar and the Beaver Valley, part of greater Trail, were added to the East Kootenay riding.
That caused a great deal of concern in the West Kootenay, as that area—a distinct part of the province—was now going to be in three separate ridings. Unfortunately there was no public process at that stage, so I had to take those concerns to the commission through a House of Commons committee.
I feel elected representatives shouldn’t play such a direct role in the establishment of electoral boundaries, so I would rather the process be changed to provide a public process at this stage and eliminate MP involvement. But I also felt it was important that the thousands of residents who sent me their concerns should have their voices heard.
So what was the final outcome? The commission decided to retain the changes made in the second draft, but did agree to return the northern suburbs of Castlegar (Pass Creek, Brilliant, Thrums, etc.) so that they would be in the same riding as Castlegar. In answer to the demands of local residents to keep Trail together with the Beaver Valley (including Montrose and Fruitvale), the commission decided to move Trail into the East Kootenay riding with the Beaver Valley.
In doing so, it separated Trail from its western neighbours, Warfield and Rossland, which have just as close ties to Trail as the Beaver Valley. The new riding will be called “Similkameen-South Okanagan-West Kootenay”, while the riding to the east will be Columbia-Kootenay-Southern Rockies.
As I said at the start, the commission has a very difficult job trying to balance the integrity of communities with ridings that have populations as close to the provincial average as possible. I’ve already heard considerable disappointment from residents in the West Kootenay that their arguably unique voice has been split into three ridings.
But I also know when these new boundaries come into effect in the next federal election, the MPs elected to represent them will do their best to make sure that voice is heard.
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.