By Laura Keil
The BC Electoral Boundaries Commission has published its proposals for changing BC’s provincial electoral districts in the next two general elections.
In their Preliminary Report, the commission has proposed changing 71 ridings, including the Prince George-Valemount riding, which could extend south to include Blue River and Avola. In the north they propose adjusting the western-most boundary slightly to exclude Hixon and the southern part of Prince George.
The commission is required to examine electoral boundaries after every second provincial election, to ensure residents in all areas of the province have roughly equal political sway.
This time, their proposals include adding six new electoral districts, potentially increasing the size of the Legislative Assembly from 87 to 93 members. The new districts are proposed for Langford, Burnaby, Langley, Surrey, Vancouver and Kelowna, where populations have boomed.
But the geographic size and remoteness of ridings is another component of how the commission makes its decisions.
At a seniors open house in Valemount last week, Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond said there’s already a massive geographic difference in the size of ridings, which can be problematic.
“I always tell people that my riding is the size of Belgium. Some MLAs can bike around their riding in an hour.”
The Prince George and Cariboo area has four electoral districts and is mostly rural, with many people living in remote locations. The commission notes that the population is relatively sparse and it is growing slower than the provincial average. The two current Cariboo ridings, Cariboo-Chilcotin and Cariboo North, fall significantly below the usual deviation range at -40.9% and -49.6% respectively (the target deviation range is +/- 25%).
The population of the two existing Prince George ridings are within the usual deviation range.
In their report, the commission said residents in this area stressed the challenge of effective representation for people living in rural and remote areas. They highlighted the inadequacy of existing transportation and connectivity infrastructure.
“Many told us that we should maintain the existing electoral district boundaries. Some said that ensuring adequate representation in growing urban areas should not come at the expense of the residents of this area.”
The commission said combining the Cariboo ridings would exacerbate these transportation and connectivity problems.
“Our proposal distributes the population concentrated in Prince George over three ridings, bringing all of this area’s ridings within the usual deviation range. We have kept downtown Prince George in one riding and have not disrupted existing connections between communities in the Robson Valley, the Chilcotin Plateau and the South Cariboo.”
They propose two electoral district name changes to reflect the communities within these ridings. Cariboo-North Thompson: This electoral district consists of the southern part of the Cariboo and the Chilcotin Plateau, as well as part of the North Thompson. The commission proposes including Williams Lake, Lac la Hache, 100 Mile House, Clearwater, Barrière and Anahim Lake into this riding. Prince George-Cariboo: The southern neighbourhoods of Prince George and the communities of the northern Cariboo and Chilcotin regions make up this electoral district. It includes Prince George south from the College Heights neighbourhood and the communities of Quesnel, Likely, Stoner, Hixon and Wells.
“Although we examined options for adjusting electoral boundaries in this area, including consolidating the current six (northern) ridings into five, we are convinced that any such changes would deprive residents of these districts of effective representation. The very large geographic size of many of these ridings and their challenging terrain and weather, along with limited transportation options and poor internet connectivity, persuades us that it is truly necessary that they retain their current boundaries.”
British Columbia is a growing province, said Justice Nitya Iyer, Chair of the Commission. “The population has increased by more than 300,000 people over the last five years. Our recommendation to increase the number of electoral districts in B.C. reflects that growth.”
Before making their recommendations, the commission travelled throughout the province, held 50 public meetings in 43 communities and received over 1,300 submissions.
“Our recommendations are the result of the considerations in the Act, the data we collected and the diverse perspectives of British Columbians,” Iyer said.
The Commission will now begin a final round of public consultations. Its final report must be released by April 3, 2023. The Legislative Assembly will then decide whether to accept any of the Commission’s recommendations.
All public input must be received by 11:59 pm on Nov. 22, 2022. To read the preliminary report, view the schedule of upcoming public hearings, or provide input on the Commission’s recommendations, visit the Commission website.