By Korie Marshall

The BC Electoral Boundaries Commission is recommending two new electoral districts in the province and changes to 49 of the current 85 districts, but only minor change for Prince George-Valemount.

There are currently 85 Members of the Legislative Assembly representing the electoral districts. In theory each should represent a similar number of people, and periodic reviews of the boundaries are called for by the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act after every second general provincial election.

Amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act in May 2014 defined three regions in which the number of electoral districts cannot be reduced – the North Region, the Cariboo-Thompson Region, and the Columbia-Kootenay Region. The commission, appointed on May 9th, 2014, says this has influenced the ability to propose electoral districts that are equal in population, as well as the decision to propose two additional electoral districts, for a total of 87. That is the maximum allowed under the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act. The two new seats are proposed for the Lower Mainland-Greater Vancouver region, one each in the Richmond and Surrey areas where a district has been added to each community.

Last year Doug Donaldson, NDP MLA for Stikine, was critical of the amendments, pointing out that the two Kamloops seats should not be considered rural, and one on Northern Vancouver Island could be, which he said raised questions about the Liberal’s motives with the legislation. Of the 17 protected ridings, Kamloops-North Thompson and Kamloops-South Thompson have the highest population, and are among the smallest in land area currently. Under the proposed changes they are still the largest in population of the 17. The two Prince George ridings are next in population, according to 2011 Census numbers, but have considerably larger land area.

Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount defended the amendments, saying “Our riding is 31,000 square kilometers in size; that is bigger than Belgium and New Jersey.” She said 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. Bond told the Goat last year that every community deserves an MLA that works hard to serve them, and that is difficult to do when you have an area larger than some European countries.

The commission says as well as population, it also had to consider geography and demographics, like density of the population, the rate of growth, and the size and physical configuration of the district, as well as the availability of means of communication and transport between parts of the province.

“We were reminded regularly during the public input period by those living in the North Region of the accessibility challenges presented by the geography, transportation routes and weather, and of the impact these challenges have on MLAs and constituents travelling to meet with each other,” says the report. It says the vast majority of input from the Northern Region argued that there is no need for change except for the boundaries of the two districts around Prince George.

Within the city, input from each of the three communities – the Hart, the Bowl and College Heights – explained that they were distinct and should not be split across multiple districts. So instead of following Highway 97 through the centre of Prince George, the proposed new boundary will follow the Fraser and Nechako rivers to the John Hart Bridge, placing the Hart neighbourhood in Prince George-Mackenzie. The boundary has also moved from Highway 16 and now follows major roads to the west, University Way and Tyner Boulevard, placing all of College Heights within Prince George-Valemount.

With the release of the preliminary report in March, the commission has again been looking for input from British Columbians, and has been hosting public hearings throughout the province in April and May. The deadline to submit your input online, by email or mail is 11:59pm on May 26th. The commission’s final proposal will be submitted to the Legislative Assembly by Sept. 25th, 2015. The last provincial election was held on May 14th, 2013, and the next one is scheduled for May 9th, 2017.

The full report and maps of the proposed boundaries are available at . You can submit input via the website , via email to [email protected] or phone 1-800-661-8683.