Local citizens who bother to contemplate such matters are justifiably irate at the proposal to slash Greater Trail in two for the purpose of federal representation.
While this community has been bounced around among various ridings in recent decades – and the constituencies themselves kneaded, stretched and pounded like so much raw dough by successive electoral boundaries commissions – never have local voters faced such a drastic change.
The commission is proposing that the Beaver Valley be included in the massive Kootenay-Columbia riding that would stretch all the way to the Alberta border and north to include Revelstoke and Golden.
The remainder of the vague-sounding B.C. Southern Interior riding that includes Trail and Rossland and much of the rest of the West Kootenay would disappear into a new one called South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
On the west, this riding would include Penticton but stop at Keremeos rather than the east gate of Manning Park, as does MP Alex Atamanenko’s Southern Interior riding. This would make for less driving for the MP and a greater community of interest, as Penticton has more in common with the southern Okanagan than Princeton does.
But in our area, community is out the window. Teck or hospital workers talking politics over the lunch table will be voting in different constituencies, and the federal concerns of the greater community will have to be taken up with two different MPs.
Although not a consideration for the boundaries commission, the change would also affect the political make-up of what used to be the Southern Interior due to the addition of a major community from the more conservative-minded Okanagan.
What does seem to be driving the commission is an overly-zealous interpretation of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. This legislation requires that electoral boundaries be adjusted every decade in light of new census data, with the goal of maintaining some semblance of representation by population.
But vastly differing rates of population growth across Canada combined with Constitutional barriers to real change make the adjustments made each decade by the 10 provincial commissions a mugs’ game. A comparison of the proposed S.O.-W.K. riding to the province of Prince Edward Island is a good indication of how much representation by population we have in this country.
P.E.I. has 140,000 citizens scattered over 5,700 square kilometres and four federal seats. The single Southern Okanagan-West Kootenay riding would have 115,000 residents in an area more than three times that of P.E.I. The number of seats allocated to the island paradise has not changed since 1915 and can only be reduced with the consent of the province, which is as likely as Quebec supporting an increase in the powers of the monarch.
Within each province, the commissions are required by law to strive for some semblance of representation by population, although they have a fair degree of latitude so that boundaries can reflect “communities of interest” and geographic realities.
The B.C. commission, headed by a provincial appeals court justice, was required this time out to aim for riding populations of 105,000, plus or minus 25 per cent. In extraordinary circumstances the fudge factor can be even greater.
Fast-growing urban ridings have tended to have more residents than rural ones, but the current redistribution would make the two local constituencies, with populations of 115,000 and 109,000, larger almost all of those in the Lower Mainland, where most ridings would be in the 95,000 to 105,000 range. In fact, the South Okanagan-West Kootenay would be the largest riding in the province in terms of population.
Local politicians should stop harping about having to drive to Castlegar to attend one of the hearings the commission has scheduled around the province. In terms of consultative sittings, this region is over represented with sessions planned for Castlegar and Nelson, while the Okanagan and East Kootenay will only have one sitting apiece.
These sessions are not public meetings. Only those who registered in advance can present to the commissioners and anyone motivated enough to do that won’t be deterred by the drive to Castlegar.
Local municipal councils should instead be focused on honing their arguments as to why this distribution should not go ahead as proposed.
While motoring along Victoria Street the other day, I witnessed what may have been a new low in local driving. The slow lane between Cedar and Bay was filled with several dozen members of a cycling club headed toward the bridge.
Rather than waiting in the passing lane for them to get by so he could make a right turn at Bay, the driver in front of me, abruptly and without warning, simply swerved into them, scattering but miraculously not hitting any of the cyclists.
Miracles, it seems, can happen. Now if only the low end of the driver pool would miraculously improve its skills and gain some common sense.
Raymond Masleck is a retired Trail Times reporter