Boundaries commission told to leave Penticton alone

Penticton residents argue against possible changes to provincial electoral boundaries in the region.

Former MLA Bill Barisoff spoke from experience as he urged the Electoral Boundaries Commission to leave local provincial ridings the way they are.

Former MLA Bill Barisoff spoke from experience as he urged the Electoral Boundaries Commission to leave local provincial ridings the way they are.

Former MLA Bill Barisoff was among a series of speakers Wednesday in Penticton who argued against possible changes to provincial electoral boundaries in the region.

“As a person that’s represented it all since 1996, I cannot stress more highly that the way it is today probably makes the most sense, said Barisoff, who retired in 2013.

Nine others also spoke out during the 90-minute public hearing hosted by the Electoral Boundaries Commission, which is reviewing the composition of B.C.’s 85 ridings to ensure fair representation by population. Such a review is required by law after every other election.

During his time in office, Barisoff saw the lines shift three times, most recently in 2009 with the creation of the current Penticton riding, which extends north to Peachland and includes Summerland and Naramata.

Those who spoke Wednesday urged the commission to leave the riding as is.

“Summerland is part of Penticton’s trade area, it’s part of our school district, it’s part of our hospital district,” said Penticton city councillor and mayoral candidate Andrew Jakubeit.

Fellow councillor and mayoral contender John Vassilaki agreed.

“The economic situation in Penticton with the rest of our riding is such that it shouldn’t be disturbed,” he said.

Ideally, ridings are drawn so that the number of people in each matches the electoral quotient, which is B.C.’s population divided by the number of ridings, and is currently set at 54,369.

In the Penticton riding, the population stands at 56,722, representing a deviation of just four per cent from the electoral quotient.

To the south, however, the population in Boundary-Similkameen is 37,840, a deviation of 30 per cent.

In their follow-up questions to presenters, commissioners sought input on ways in which Boundary-Similkameen could be reshaped to lessen the deviation.

But as Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes noted, the problem will be corrected somewhat as the Okanagan Correctional Centre is built and populated with inmates and staff.

“You’re looking at 1,200 to 1,500 people for sure, just for the corrections facility,” said Hovanes.

Commission chairman Justice Thomas Melnick, who’s on leave from his regular duties with the B.C. Supreme Court, said afterwards all options are on the table.

“We have no pre-conceived notions at this point. We’ll do the best we can to make sure everyone has effective representation to the extent that we can,” he said.

The other two panel members are Beverley Busson, commissioner of the RCMP prior to her retirement in 2007, and Keith Archer, who presently works as B.C.’s chief electoral officer.

The commission, which is visiting 29 communities this fall, has been authorized to recommend the creation of two new ridings.

A preliminary report is due by May 2015, and after another period for public feedback, a final report with recommendations will be sent to the B.C. legislature by November 2015.

If approved, the changes would take effect for the next provincial election, scheduled for May 2017.