The British Columbia Electoral Boundaries Commission wants input from the public as it reviews the province’s electoral district boundaries.
Every two general elections, the commission evaluates the boundaries and the number of constituents in each riding, making boundary changes to try and evenly distribute residents among MLAs. The newly formed commission was appointed last October.
The survey is available until May 31st, and the commission says British Columbians can attend a public meeting to provide input, however, none have been scheduled for Northeast B.C. yet.
Through amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act passed last year, the commission can create six new electoral districts, resulting in a potential decrease in the number of northern seats in the Legislative Assembly.
Currently, the Cariboo-Thompson, Columbia-Kootenay, and North regions are guaranteed 17 seats out of the total 87 seats in the legislature. The B.C. Liberals created the guarantee in 2014 to ensure fair access and representation for rural communities.
Attorney General David Eby said the bill “improves commission independence, responds to B.C. population growth and restores flexibility to the commission.” He also said that the bill would eliminate three regions in the act that are collectively guaranteed a minimum of 17 seats.
Both Peace region MLAs voiced their immediate concerns after the bill was introduced.
Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier said the bill 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,” said Bernier.
For comparison, an MLA representing a riding in Vancouver may cover their entire riding in a 10 block area, whereas northern MLAs represent a much greater area. With the possibility of the northern seats being redistributed to the Lower Mainland, it may become harder for MLAs to connect with their constituents.
North Peace MLA Dan Davies said people in the north have much more to lose than those in urban centres.
“You look at my riding, it takes three days already to drive across it. The multitude of issues, whether we’re talking provincial highways, infrastructure, bridges, hunting and fishing, land use management issues, not to downplay what my colleagues in the urban centres have, but it’s a very different role that our more rural MLAs play.”
Davies added that there was protection in place to make sure each riding had a voice in the legislature, but that is now being removed.
“Not every NDP, and especially those sitting in government, understand the issues that we deal with. Whether it be agriculture issues, oil and gas issues, forestry, you name the resource. We’ve been having to fight tooth and nail right now to get the resources recognized by this government. If we start losing more of that voice, it’s just going to get more challenging.”
A preliminary report is set to be released by October 21st, and another round of public consultation will take place before the commission’s final report is submitted.
The commission is comprised of Justice Nitya Iyer, Linda Tynan, a local government management consultant, and Anton Boegman, the province’s chief electoral officer.
“We welcome input from all British Columbians early in our process,” said Justice Iyer. “It is important for British Columbians to have a voice in how their communities are represented in the legislature.”