The people of the West Kootenay have spoken and the federal Electoral Boundaries Commission has not listened.
The commission submitted its recommendations on Monday for reconfiguration of federal electoral boundaries in B.C.—allowing for six new districts while keeping population numbers equitable—and have ignored the overwhelming sentiment garnered from a commission tour of the region in October, says the B.C. Southern Interior’s member of Parliament.
Alex Atamanenko said the recommendation, that splits Trail and Castlegar off from Nelson, will hamper actual accessibility people would have to a member of Parliament, as well as the area’s ability to come together on common issues.
“The findings are contrary to what the overwhelming majority of people said at the hearings,” he explained. “People wanted our communities to stay together—Nelson, Trail and Castlegar—they did not listen to that. They are basically going with the initial proposal that they had before, so it shows they weren’t really listening that well.”
The new boundaries will be studied by a House of Commons committee and the final realignment will be submitted in September
Although submissions encouraged the commission to keep Nelson, Castlegar and Trail in one electoral district, such a combination “would have resulted in an electoral district with numbers well above the electoral quota,” read the report from the commission.
As a result of the tour, the commission configured a new electoral district named South Okanagan, West Kootenay that includes Trail, Castlegar, Fruitvale and Montrose in its eastern region.
However, it will see Nelson, along with Kaslo, Salmo and Creston, join with the East Kootenay in the Kootenay Columbia riding and apart from Castlegar and Trail.
The central portion of the South Okanagan, West Kootenay district comprises the Kootenay Boundary area, and the western region incorporates Osoyoos, Oliver and Penticton.
In drafting its initial proposal, the commission was faced with the challenge of determining how to reconfigure the existing electoral district of Kootenay Columbia, which had a variance of 16 per cent below the electoral population quota.
Initially, the commission determined the only route of expansion was to the west and recommended crossing the Salmo-Creston (Kootenay Pass) and include the communities of Nelson, Salmo, Fruitvale and Montrose into the riding that now bounds the East Kootenay and Cranbrook, separating them from Trail, Rossland and Castlegar.
The commission has also recommended configuring a new electoral district named Central Okanagan, Similkameen, Nicola that contains Summerland, Keremeos, Princeton and adjacent areas. This electoral district includes Peachland, West Kelowna, and a portion of the City of Kelowna south of Harvey Avenue and adjacent to Okanagan Lake.
The report has now been submitted to the House of Commons for MP comment. And Atamanenko’s comment is that rural B.C. is once again “being taken to the cleaners” by the federal government.
“I am certainly going to fight to maintain our area intact,” he said, noting he had one month to submit a proposal as comment. “They could leave this riding alone. They don’t need to be, for the sake of numbers, adding centres and then breaking it apart. I thought they were listening but that has disappeared.”
The commission had received submissions to keep Nakusp, Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Area K and H, New Denver and the Slocan Valley in the same electoral district. As well, the commission was advised that the proposal had the effect of splitting communities adjacent to Kaslo and the north end of Kootenay Lake.
The 2011 census population of the electoral districts contained between the Alberta border and the 49th parallel, north to Kamloops and the Shuswap, was 675,826. Ultimately, the commission concluded that the addition of an electoral district in the B.C. Interior was not feasible.
Before issuing its proposal, the commission had received a variety of suggestions from the public for the redesign of the province’s electoral boundaries.
“The proposal itself generated a considerable volume of public input into the process,” the commission report read.
The advice received by the commission touched on various subjects, particularly the maintenance of existing boundaries where possible, the division of neighbouring communities, the difficulty of driving in certain weather conditions and the importance of municipal and regional district boundaries.
In general, the reconfigurations were made to recognize communities of interest affected by the proposal, to respect municipal boundaries, to substantially utilize regional district and census subdivision boundaries and in “appreciation of the coexistence” of urban and rural communities.