By Korie Marshall
Amendments to BC’s Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, currently being debated in the Legislature, would mean there can be no reductions in the number of electoral districts in three of B.C.’s most rural and northern regions. Not everyone agrees on which ridings should be considered rural, but Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, says she passionately supports this bill.
Under the amendments, a total of 17 ridings in the North, Cariboo-Thompson and Columbia-Kootenay regions would be protected. The boundaries of the ridings could change within the regions, but the number of ridings must stay the same, and the total number of ridings in the province would stay at 85. NDP MLA for Stikine, Doug Donaldson has been critical of the amendments, because of what he calls an inconsistency in defining what seats are considered rural.
Donaldson says he’s supportive of protecting rural representation, “But when the Liberals included in their legislation two Kamloops seats as rural, and excluded northern Vancouver Island as non-rural, it raises significant questions about their motives.”
Of the 17 protected ridings, Kamloops-North Thompson and Kamloops-South Thompson have the highest population, and are among the smallest in land area. The two Prince George ridings are next in population, according to 2011 Census numbers, but have considerably larger land area.
“Our riding is 31,000 square kilometers in size; that is bigger than Belgium and New Jersey,” Bond told the Goat last week. She says it takes three and a half hours to get from one end of her riding to another, and like hers, the Kamloops ridings have small dispersed communities as well as urban areas. Every community deserves an MLA that works hard to serve them, says Bond, and that is difficult to do when you have an area larger that some European countries.
“What has surprised me is the lack of support from the rural NDP MLA’s,” said Bond. “They stood in the house and criticized Prince George, my riding, being included.”
The last time electoral boundaries were reviewed, Bond says the three regions were at risk of losing seats. At that time, the Cohen report advised government that unless they did something about it, those same regions would again be at risk of losing seats. Bond says that is the rationale behind choosing the three regions to protect, rather than individual ridings.
“The rationale is that is where the decline is going to continue – we need to protect those regions of the province,” says Bond. “We have to preserve the voices of northern British Columbians, not diminish them.”