Rural and northern B.C. risks losing representation in the provincial legislature if the number of ridings in those areas is reduced, say MLAs from the region.
Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross criticized the action of the NDP government for lifting the protection of the electoral boundaries through legislative amendments in May last year.
“The NDP have made it clear that it’s OK to weaken the representation of northern communities, ” said Ross, adding, “Lifting the protection of electoral boundaries will make it harder for our communities to be heard in Victoria.”
There’s also possibilities of ridings merging – Stikine with Nechako-Lakes and North Coast with Skeena, said John Rustad
The BC Liberal MLA for Nechako – Lakes said that could happen as a result of a three-member provincial electoral boundary commission now looking at the number of ridings within the province.
The challenge is that the population of southern B.C. is increasing rapidly while that of northern and rural areas is not.
Although the three-member electoral commission which toured the northwest last week can now consider unique circumstances relating to geography and demographics, Rustad is worried that the latitude given the commission could affect the existing number of northern and rural ridings.
“In my riding I have six [municipal] councils, regional districts, 13 First Nations and two school districts. That’s a lot of competing interests to represent as it is,” he said of the possibility of having the riding combined with another one.
Rustad recounts conversations with BC Liberal MLAs who told him they can walk across their ridings in half an hour.
“But up here, to see your MLA, it could be the equivalent of driving from Point Grey [in Vancouver] to Kelowna,” he said.
That’s why, Rustad continued, it’s important for northern and rural residents to impress upon the commission that for effective and continuing representation, existing boundaries in northern and rural areas should not change.
NDP MLA Nathan Cullen’s Stikine riding is geographically the largest in the province, spread across 196,484 square kilometres, while also representing the lowest population. Cullen also shares similar concerns over effective representation if electoral boundaries were to be merged.
“I would be very much concerned if some of the largest ridings were forced together, making representing them in Victoria even more challenging than it already is. It’s already a 16-hour drive, one way, to the furthest corner of Stikine,” he said.
Cullen who also served as an elected representative for one of the larger federal ridings, Skeena-Bulkley Valley, added, “I know first hand what a bigger provincial riding would mean: less service, less face to face and less voice for the communities of the northwest.”