FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Bill 7, the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, could reduce the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly from the province’s northern region.
Attorney General David Eby introduced the bill on Monday. Every two general elections, the Electoral Boundaries Commission evaluates the boundaries and the number of constituents in each riding, making boundary changes to try and evenly distribute residents among MLAs.
This process doesn’t work the same way in rural British Columbia. Take Peace River North MLA Dan Davies, for example.
“My riding right now is almost 170,000 square kilometres. It’s a challenge, but I manage. Under this new proposal, we could be looking at super ridings. Three or four MLAs would represent the entire northern two-thirds of our province. Can you imagine representing from Fort St. John to Prince George and all the way north,” says Davies.
Currently, the Cariboo-Thompson, Columbia-Kootenay, and North regions are guaranteed 17 seats out of the total 87 seats in the legislature. The Liberal government created the guarantee to ensure fair access and representation for rural communities.
The NDP government wants to redraw the boundary for the next two elections, eliminate the three northern regions and the 17 seats guaranteed between them.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a political move,” says Davies. “We’ve seen this government call an election purely for political gain, knowing it would benefit them. We saw them a few years ago try to change our electoral system to proportional representation, which would only benefit the NDP.”
Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier says that could lead to combining all the rural ridings.
“What the NDP is talking about doing is possibly amalgamating all the rural ridings together into mega ridings. You could have the whole northwest part of B.C. could be one riding instead of three,” says Bernier.
For comparison, an MLA that represents a riding in Vancouver may cover his or her entire riding in a 10 block area, where northern MLAs represent a much greater area.
Davies says the government needs to be improving democracy, improving constituents’ ability to connect with their local elected officials.
“This does the exact opposite. It basically dilutes our democracy. That trust that we have from an elected official to a constituent and vice versa is at risk.”
Mike Bernier offered up a scenario involving representation by population only from a federal standpoint.
“If the federal government came and said, ‘we’re going to take a bunch of MPs away from B.C. now because you don’t have the same population as Ontario and Quebec’, people would go nuts.”
Davies and Bernier both insist this is not just an urban versus rural issue.
“This is about representation and fairness, so even the people in downtown Vancouver should be looking at this, thinking it isn’t fair for family members that live in rural areas. I wouldn’t want my representation taken away from Ottawa, so why is it fair to take representation away in my own province?” says Bernier.
“That’s the east versus west divide, just urban and rural. We’re doing everything we can to eliminate that division that seems to be there. This is just adding wood to the fire.” added Davies.
The Electoral Boundaries Commission will be formed by October 24th.