Rural voters maintain advantage

There aren’t too many benefits to living in B.C.’s vast hinterlands, compared to the southwest where three-quarters of B.C. residents reside.

There aren’t too many benefits to living in B.C.’s vast hinterlands, compared to the southwest where three-quarters of B.C. residents reside.

A few advantages of rural life spring to mind: it’s quieter, traffic jams are fewer and shorter, and real estate prices are more reasonable.

Another advantage is little noticed, but significant just the same. Rural voters have more clout than their urban counterparts. There can be as many as three times the number of voters in a Metro Vancouver constituency as in one of the remote northern seats, but each gets one MLA.

That advantage was reinforced during the 2008 electoral boundary redistribution, when the B.C. Liberal government decided not to eliminate rural seats — a move recommended by an independent commission to equalize representation in the B.C. legislature. Instead, both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP supported adding six extra seats, in the Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland, Okanagan and Southern Vancouver Island. That narrowed the gap, but the other regions remain over-represented in Victoria.

The B.C. Liberal Party has now moved to match this rural clout in its own leadership vote, set for Feb. 26. At a weekend convention, party delegates voted almost unanimously to get rid of the one member-one vote system that put Vancouverite Gordon Campbell into the leadership 17 years ago.

The new weighted voting system ensures that constituencies with small memberships have the same influence in the leadership contest as those who have signed up thousands of new members in urban areas. A rural member’s vote might be up to 10 times as powerful as one in Surrey, where many new members have been signed up.

As one delegate pointed out, this isn’t strictly a rural-urban thing. In NDP strongholds such as East Vancouver or Nanaimo, there are large populations but only a hardy little band of B.C. Liberal stalwarts maintaining membership in a constituency the party has little chance of winning.

There wasn’t much grumbling about this decision. Most B.C. Liberals agreed with the candidates that sticking with a one member-one vote system would mean only urban candidates have a chance of leading the party.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett was one of those advocating the change to weighted voting, before his noisy expulsion from the B.C. Liberal cabinet and caucus last fall. Still a faithful party member, Bennett urged delegates to adopt the new system, partly because it gives the party “a huge advantage” over the NDP.

The NDP is selecting its next leader in April, using the one member-one vote system for the first time. NDP leadership candidates have also signed up thousands of new members, most of them from urban constituencies.

The NDP now risks becoming the party of the urban poor, and that’s not a recipe for success.

Some rural voters will remember that Glen Clark made his first visit to Prince George only after he became premier. He spoke about how pleased he was to finally visit the north, apparently unaware that he had only reached the middle of the province, with the north still to come.

Carole James worked hard for seven years as leader to make the NDP reach out beyond its traditional power base. She was rewarded in 2005 with seats regained in the North Coast, Kootenays and Cariboo as well as traditional areas of strength.

It won’t be easy for an urban-dominated NDP to retain these far-flung constituencies, much less add to their current seats and form a majority government.

The B.C. Liberals have gone a long way to holding their rural-urban coalition together.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

This photo of the small wildfire burning above Naramata was taken at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021 (Monique Tamminga Western News)
BC Wildfire on scene of small wildfire above Naramata

Black smoke can be seen rising from the mountain

Keremeos’ heritage Grist Mill and Gardens. (Brennan Phillips - Keremeos Review)
Keremeos Grist Mill looking forward to restrictions easing with exclusive concert planned

Juno Award-winning folk artist Valdy is set to take the stage

Letter writer says COVID has created lots of newbie cyclists who don't know rules of cycling. (File photo)
LETTER: Newbie cyclists in Penticton need lessons on rules of the road

Penticton cycling group just received city funding, should give back by offering how-to lessons

No dental coverage for low income Canadians. (File photo)
OPINION: Penticton MP’s proposal for universal dental coverage rejected

One in 3 Canadians have no dental coverage, with COVID making it even worse

The weekly COVID-19 map for June 6 to 12. (BC CDC)
South Okanagan sees only 5 new cases in last week

The Similkameen Valley went a second week without any new cases

Bear wanders Kelowna on June 15. (Michelle Wallace/Facebook)
Bear climbs fence, uses crosswalk in Kelowna

The bear was spotted on Baron Road Wednesday evening

Students in the Grade 10 entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School have completed a cookbook with international recipes. (Contributed)
Summerland students create virtual international cookbook

Entrepreneurship program at Summerland Unisus School uses virtual cookbook as fundraiser

Hundreds of people, young and old, joined the three-day Walking Our Spirits Home procession, honouring residential school survivors, those who never made it home and all those affected by the institutions. Here people walk the third portion on June 13. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)
Walking Our Spirits Home from Kamloops provides path to healing

First Nations in and beyond Secwépemc territory join in to honour residential school survivors

More flames
Lake Country home destroyed in large blaze, 11 dogs rescued

Fire crews are responding to 10839 Hallam Drive

(Facebook/Kelowna Cabs)
Kelowna Cabs reaches tentative agreement with dispatchers union

The tentative agreement could help end the dispute between the taxi company and the dispatchers

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

A boat sharing service is extending to Summerland. The company, Penticton Boat Club and Rentals, is also taking over the boat rentals at Summerland Waterfront Resort. (Photo by Chris Stenberg)
Boat sharing service extended from Penticton to Summerland

Company will also operate boat rentals at Summerland Waterfront Resort

201 First Street West 1980s. Prior revitalization. (Photo from Revelstoke Museum and Archives)
Man who redesigned downtown Revelstoke honoured with lifetime achievement award

Robert Inwood has worked on historical projects across the province

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

Most Read