The problem with our method of redefining political boundaries

Redistributing concern

Provincial and federal (political riding) boundary redistribution in Canada is often boring and receives little attention—until the non-partisan commissions responsible do something surprising, which is what happened in the Okanagan recently.

Provincial and federal electoral boundaries are reviewed periodically. The boundaries are essentially the imaginary lines that divide our communities and determine who your Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and Member of Parliaments (MPs) are. Given that the Kelowna metropolitan area is the fastest growing community in Canada, this year’s redistribution led to one additional provincial and one additional federal riding being created in the Okanagan.

The respective provincial and federal boundary commissions, while working independently of each other, essentially function in the same way. They adjust the boundaries of each riding based on the need to add or remove ridings to account for population changes, while doing their best to keep communities whole or communities with strong links together.

The commissions produce initial reports, with their suggested changes and go out into communities for feedback. After that consultation period, they produce final reports that are presented to the Legislative Assembly or House of Commons, which are then finalized. There is no further consultation, and while theoretically the existing elected MLAs and MPs can contest parts of the reports, they historically do not result in any real changes.

While both commissions have made significant changes, and there have been concerns raised by community members, it’s the most recent provincial changes that are causing the largest stir.

Provincially, the commission determined the Kelowna-area required an additional riding, bringing our total number of MLAs to four from three. The preliminary report the commission produced created a new riding, to be called Kelowna Centre, encompassing downtown Kelowna and Glenmore area. To do that, they moved the existing Kelowna West riding, which once included parts of downtown Kelowna, over to include only West Kelowna to Peachland and extended the existing Kelowna—Lake Country riding north to include parts of the Vernon area, including Predator Ridge, Bella Vista, Adventure Bay and a few more neighbourhoods.

The commission then went out and consulted on this report.

Following this consultation, the commission released its final report. The report kept the changes roughly the same in downtown Kelowna, Glenmore, West Kelowna and other areas, but it made significant changes in the Vernon-area.

The Kelowna—Lake Country riding in the final report, lost those new areas of Vernon—Predator Ridge, Bella Vista, Adventure Bay and more. Those neighbourhoods went into a riding to be called Vernon—Lumby (formerly Vernon—Monashee), which will include all of Vernon and Lumby.

However, Kelowna—Lake Country will become Kelowna—Lake Country—Coldstream, with Coldstream, just south of Vernon, added to the riding. The proposed new riding will include Rutland, Black Mountain, Ellison, McKinley Beach, Lake Country, Oyama and Coldstream.

That proposal has caused quite the stir.

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce, the City of Vernon and the District of Coldstream have all strongly objected to the changes. There are a variety of reasons for the objections including that Coldstream is in the Regional District of North Okanagan, Coldstream’s role in Vernon and Lumby’s economies, the close association between eastern Coldstream and Lumby and more.

The objection goes to the key part of why these redistributions are both difficult and flawed due to the consultation process.

When the commission produces a preliminary report and it doesn’t impact a community, the community won’t provide feedback. So, for example, if you live in Coldstream and saw the preliminary maps, which had you as usual with the City of Vernon, you would never have seen a need to go to the commission and thank them for keeping you in the same riding you have been in for years. You would have thought it was a given you would stay there.

But then, the final report comes out and the commission moves your riding by putting Coldstream in with Lake Country and parts of Kelowna. Well, if that bothers you, unfortunately the consultation process is closed and you can’t provide feedback.

Of course, consultation is difficult and eventually has halted. However, the process by which a community, which would have never thought it would be impacted can be impacted for the first time at the closing of the public consultation, is inherently a flaw in the process.

When the changes between the preliminary and the final reports are small, the need for further public consultation is not there. However, large changes, like taking Coldstream out of Vernon and putting it with Lake Country ad parts of Kelowna, should require further consultation and input before MLAs vote on the final report to ensure the impacted community can have their voice heard.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Wilson on Water Street articles

About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto, where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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