Changes could reshape B.C. political map

Addition of federal ridings could see the lines redrawn for Okanagan Coquihalla

Political strategists in the Okanagan will have to rewrite their playbooks to accommodate a coming shift in electoral boundaries, predicts a voting-reform advocate who has studied the issue.

Wilfred Day, a member of Fair Vote Canada, figures population growth in the Kelowna area will force changes throughout the Okanagan. He sees part of Kelowna being trimmed from MP Ron Cannan’s Kelowna-Lake Country riding and added to the Okanagan-Coquihalla riding. Okanagan-Coquihalla, held by MP Dan Albas, would then lose the Nicola-region communities of Merritt and Logan Lake.

“That’s what I think is the logical alternative,” Day said, but cautioned that boundary shuffles in the Kootenay and Thompson regions could throw a wrench into the works.

Based on population growth, the province is due to get six new ridings, upping its total to 42 ahead of the next scheduled federal election in 2015. Federal Electoral Boundaries Commissions in B.C. and elsewhere are now spooling up to make once-a-decade recommendations on how electoral boundary lines should be redrawn to ensure fair representation by population.

While nothing is final yet, it appears explosive population growth on the south coast means five of the new ridings will be added in the Lower Mainland, with the sixth placed on Vancouver Island, according to Justice John Hall, who chairs the province’s three-person boundaries commission and sits on the B.C. Court of Appeal. Elsewhere in the province, such as the Okanagan, lines will simply be redrawn to make things work.

“I think that’s the way it’s going to break out,” Hall said Thursday.

The Interior as a whole is “getting close” to requiring an entirely new riding, he added, but, “at the moment, the numbers just don’t look like they’re going to do that.”

Commissions are provided a quotient by Statistics Canada to guide their work. This year, the quotient for B.C. is 105,000, which approximately equals the province’s population divided by its number of ridings. The population in each riding should then be within 25 per cent of that margin. The two local ridings easily manage that.

According to 2011 census data, Okanagan-Coquihalla’s population was 113,836, while Alex Atamanenko’s Southern Interior riding stood at 97,952. However, the population in Kelowna-Lake-Country ballooned during the last census period to 134,732, putting it above the 25 per cent threshold and necessitating an adjustment that will likely be felt throughout the region

Day, an Ontario lawyer, said a redrawing of boundaries in the Okanagan, a Conservative stronghold, would create little political drama here, but the changes would have ripple effects in surrounding regions, where things could get interesting.

“If you had a purely urban Kamloops riding, that looks like an NDP seat,” he said. “That’s the sort of thing that people are watching.”

The B.C. commission is due to send its provisional recommendations to Ottawa later this month for vetting by Statistics Canada and Elections Canada. The initial round of public comment on the matter closes April 20.

Hall expects the proposed changes will be disseminated to the public beginning in June, and a series of about 20 public forums around the province is planned for the fall. Final recommendations are due to be submitted to Parliament by next February.

Hall is joined on the B.C. commission by Stewart Ladyman, a retired public school administrator, and Peter Meekison, a political science professor and chancellor of Royal Roads University.

Comments can be e-mailed to the commission at bc-cb@refed-rcf.ca, or submitted by phone at 1-855-747-7236.