Come the next federal election, MP Dan Albas will no longer be running in a riding that includes his home town.
Despite the best efforts of representatives of Penticton and Summerland, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission has decided to draw a border between the two closely connected communities, creating two new ridings when the changes come into effect during the 2015 federal election.
“This is very difficult for me. My riding largely stays the same with the exception that Penticton has, in essence, been removed … with Princeton and Keremeos added in along with parts of Kelowna,” said Albas, who announced this week that he has decided not to run in the South Okanagan – West Kootenay riding.
“I have spent the past few years becoming familiar with many important community issues as well as building relationships with community leaders, the vast majority of whom will remain within the new riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola,” Albas wrote in his weekly report.
“Given the importance of knowing local challenges and the need to build strong community relationships to help resolve them, representing a familiar riding and working with community leaders you know, is , in my view, the way an MP can be most effective.”
Though the new ridings are two years away and have yet to be approved by Parliament, Albas said there is little likelihood there will be changes.
When the commission visited Penticton in 2012, representatives from both communities expressed concern that separating the two cities would cleave the many ties and shared services between them.
“The part that troubles me is why were we asked for our opinion in the first place if no one was going to listen? I certainly don’t feel as if we were listened to,” said Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino. “We spent the time preparing, and obviously they made a decision, so that is a done deal. I think it is shortsighted to keep us away from our regional district, school boards, transit, the list is endless.”
The riding boundary still splits the communities, though the border has been redrawn to include Apex with Penticton, and Keremeos now joins Summerland in the Central Okanagan – Similkameen – Nicola riding. On the eastern side of the riding, Kaslo has been removed and Nakusp added.
Perrino doesn’t object to her community being in a riding with Similkameen and Nicola communities, but notes her community has closer ties with Penticton, their closest neighbour and population centre for the South Okanagan.
“We share everything with Penticton, and in fact, many of our citizens live in Summerland and work in Penticton, including myself. It’s just that we don’t have the major player at the table. That, for me, just seems ludicrous,” said Perrino.
“It just feels very strange that we are now going to have to do everything through two MPs. And depending on where the other MP lives, this could be very complicated.
“If they are in the Kootenays, when the major centre in Penticton, this is going to be very interesting.”
“These issues were raised at the hearings, but, again, were ignored. Thus far I haven’t heard a lot of enthusiasm for the final report,” said Albas, noting that the commission, both here and in other communities, heard strong cases against the proposed ridings.
Deputy mayor Helena Konanz sees the planned changes to the riding as a challenge.
“I am not too worried about it. Maybe because of those two different MPs, Summerland and Penticton will start working more together because we know we are going to have to show as a joint force,” said Konanz, adding that many communities find themselves in different ridings than their neighbours.
Albas agrees there will always be some level of disappointment, but said greater effort could have been made to recognize the balance between the larger urban areas and the less densely populated rural regions.
“From attending the public information sessions, it’s clear the commission really didn’t listen to concerns from many of the communities involved,” said Albas.
He feels the primary focus shouldn’t be on the number of people in a riding, but the accessibility of the MP.
“I know there are a lot of numbers that go into this, but to me, the bottom line, that’s what needs to happen,” he said. “In this case, the public hearings had some very good input along those same lines. Unfortunately, they were ignored.”