Province plans to review electoral boundaries

Kootenay West could be on the table for changes as deliberations begin assessing provincial electoral boundaries.

The three members of the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC) will soon begin deliberations on potential changes to provincial ridings, and Kootenay West could be on the table for changes.

The local riding has already been altered by the EBC twice; in 2001 when the ridng was changed from its original Rossland-Trail name and boundaries to West Kootenay-Boundary, then again in 2008 when it became its current configuration of Kootenay West.

The provincial Electoral Boundaries Commission Act requires that a new EBC be established after every two elections, with the last struck in 2008 when the number of ridings, and consequently Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) rose from 79 to the current 85.

In this round the EBC has the option of adding another two ridings, bringing the total to 87.

“Every eight years an independent Electoral Boundaries Commission reviews B.C.’s electoral district boundaries and names,” Andrew Watson, communications coordinator for Elections B.C., said in an email. “This is to ensure that each Member of the Legislature represents about the same number of people (representation by population).”

However, the EBC recognizes that, in a province like B.C., with large tracts of sparsely populated country, simply drawing boundaries on a map could potentially leave some people with very limited access to their MLA, and subsequently without adequate representation.

Population considerations can be a concern for regions like the Kootenays, where there has been a relatively consistent decrease in the population over the past few decades, which could, potentially, threaten residents with the elimination of ridings and less representation in Victoria.

“Per the EBC Act, the Commission establishes electoral district boundaries based on the principle of representation by population, while recognizing that geography, demographics, history, and community interests may not allow for exactly equal populations in every electoral district in the province,” said Watson. “For this reason the commission may establish districts with populations 25 per cent above or below the provincial average. The commission may deviate from this principle if ‘very special circumstances’ exist.”

However, recent amendments to the Act require that no reduction in the number of districts can occur in the Kootenay-Columbia region or in two other regions, the North and Cariboo-Thompson.

In only these three regions in the province the commission does not need to find that “very special” circumstances exist in order to go beyond the 25 per cent population deviation rule. But, the boundaries of the individual districts within these regions can be altered to try to balance the population of the districts across the regions.

“We spoke against the bill,” said Katrine Conroy, NDP MLA for Kootenay West. “We definitely believe in rural representation but this amendment protected seats like Prince George and Kamloops, I hardly consider those to be rural seats. We should let the commission be independent. This is just another example of the Liberals doing what they want with, supposedly, independent commissions. Manipulation of the process before the process has even begun.  ”

The latest EBC, formed just last week, includes, as chair of the panel, Justice Thomas Melnick, a justice of the Supreme Court of B.C., who has been serving as Supreme Court Justice in Cranbrook since 1990. The two other appointees are Beverly Busson, a former commissioner of the RCMP, and Dr. Keith Archer, B.C.’s chief electoral officer.

The new commission will be meeting in the near future for discussion and to develop a work plan, public hearings schedule, and website for public information.