Local politicians are riled up after an Electoral Boundaries Commission omission eliminated Greater Trail and the regional district from the public meeting schedule on the proposed federal riding changes.
A federal plan is in place to chop the current Southern Interior riding into two—slicing a political wedge between the neighbouring communities of Fruitvale, Montrose, Trail, Warfield and Rossland—but those who wish to speak to the proposal will have to travel north to Castlegar on Oct. 3 to voice a concern.
The oversight raised the ire of local politicians, prompting the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary board of directors to send a letter demanding an explanation of why there was no meeting planned for the area most affected by the change.
Area A director Ali Grieve said she was not in favour of the proposed boundary change, saying the board had asked the commission to reconsider why there was no meeting set for Trail.
“You’d hate to think they are avoiding some negative input, but that is likely what they would get here,” she said. “But they need to come here and get that input, good, bad or otherwise.”
The man holding down the seat in the Interior riding agreed. NDP MP Alex Atamanenko said he had forwarded the letter—and RDKB chair Larry Gray’s comments—to the commission.
However, Atamanenko was not encouraged by the prospect of a Trail meeting being added to commission’s itinerary, considering one is also planned for Nelson on Oct. 2.
“I don’t know why they chose Castlegar instead of Trail,” he said.
“I think it was a case of trying to do two meetings without looking at the implications of where they are going to put them. The whole thing was made from afar without looking at our wants and needs.”
Although Atamanenko did not believe there was any malicious intent in the move, the choice mirrored the boundary proposal to split up the constituency.
Under the proposed boundaries, the new riding of the South Okanagan-West Kootenay (formerly called the B.C. Southern Interior) will extract Nelson, Harrop-Proctor, Blewett, Salmo, Ymir, Fruitvale and Montrose from the riding.
Instead, the latter group will be added to the Kootenay-Columbia group, which stretches to the Alberta border.
The City of Penticton will be included for the first time in 100 years with parts of the West Kootenay, while the Similkameen Valley would be cut in half at Keremeos.
Hedley and Princeton will join the vast Central Okanagan-Coquihalla riding extending to the southern border of Kamloops.
Even without a local meeting, Atamanenko felt, based on historical precedence, there was a good chance to overturn the proposal, considering a previous attempt before the 2004 election when the commission proposed slicing off the Slocan Valley from the riding.
It was pointed out at the time that it wasn’t the right thing to do, said Atamanenko, and the commission retracted the proposal.
Today there is an overwhelming majority of people around the area that do not want the commission to make the current move, he said. That momentum needs to be harnessed, he said.
“If we get enough people out and we get enough written submissions I think there is a good chance we’ll overturn the proposal,” Atamanenko said.
And support is growing. Letters have been also been sent to the commission from the City of Rossland, and the Village of Montrose and Rossland have made it known they will be sending their mayors to speak on the matter before the commission on Oct. 3.
“If we are not able to convince them of the need for a local meeting, there are some people going to Castlegar to speak against it,” Grieve warned.
Although the deadline to register to speak at the commission meeting has passed, people can still provide written submissions before the Oct. 18 deadline.
Atamanenko said the proposal needs to be stopped based on geographical and sensible motives, not on losing or gaining a seat on the government side of the house, as was suggested in Rossland city council last month.
“That’s false logic. This is not about getting one party elected over another. This is not political,” said Atamanenko.
“What we’re trying to do is ensure that this riding continues to be workable so that constituents right across will have access to their MP. It’s not about whether we have a Conservative or an NDP MP.”
The proposed changes would make that very difficult, he concluded.