Posted on 28 February 2013 by Richard McGuire
A new map of federal electoral districts is attracting criticism from local MPs on both sides of the political spectrum.
MP Alex Atamanenko, (NDP – B.C. Southern Interior) and MP Dan Albas (Conservative – Okanagan-Coquihalla) have both issued statements critical of the map submitted Jan. 28 by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia.
Both MPs say they will be raising their concerns with the House of Commons standing committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which can recommend changes to the boundaries commission.
The new boundaries could improve electoral chances for the Conservatives in this area, but the MPs are basing their concerns on the splitting of communities and the difficulty many constituents will have accessing their MP’s office.
Under the new boundaries, Osoyoos would be in a newly created riding called South Okanagan-West Kootenay, which would also include Oliver and Penticton, as well as communities as far as Slocan, Castlegar and Trail.
Keremeos would now be located in a separate riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, which also includes Princeton, Summerland, Peachland, West Kelowna and Merritt.
The new map splits Atamanenko’s current riding of B.C. Southern Interior over three new ridings.
Atamanenko is particularly concerned that Nelson, Kaslo and Salmo will become part of a re-drawn Kootenay-Columbia, splitting them from Slocan, Castlegar and Trail.
“We heard the message loud and clear that Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo did not want to be separated from Castlegar and Trail, but that is exactly what the commission has done,” said Atamanenko, referring to public hearings about the proposed changes held in October.
Atamanenko currently has a full-time constituency office in Castlegar and a part-time office in Oliver. With Penticton added to the riding, it would require a second full-time office, Atamaneko said.
MPs don’t receive an additional budget for a second office, he noted.
The three-member commission is not supposed to weigh political factors when it draws boundaries.
Under federal law, it is required to consider such factors as population, a manageable geographic size, and “the community of interest or community of identity” or historical patterns of a district.
In a blog post Jan. 30, Albas acknowledged that proposed changes in the Southern Interior “are potentially more politically advantageous to my party than to the other parties,” but said his criticism is an attempt to look beyond the politics and at whether people are better represented, which he said would not be the case.
“While population is certainly a critical factor in creating riding boundaries, we must also consider accessibility,” Albas argued. “That is the right of citizens to meet with their elected Member of Parliament and that is where my concern arises.”
An MP in the new South Okanagan-Kootenay riding would likely locate an office in Penticton, requiring residents from the Slocan Valley to drive many hours over some of the most challenging roads in the province, Albas said.
Residents of Cawston and Keremeos would also likely have to drive through Penticton to see an MP based in West Kelowna, Albas said.
“I submit this … is unrealistic and lacking in common sense,” he wrote.
Atamanenko doesn’t think the changes in the Okanagan make sense either.
“I know that residents of Penticton and Summerland wanted to stay together, for one thing because they have that community of interest,” he said. “The message I got from people from Princeton all the way to Oliver is that they’re very comfortable with that Hwy. 3 corridor and they would feel more part of being included with Keremeos certainly and also with Oliver and Osoyoos.”
The current riding of B.C. Southern Interior follows the Hwy. 3 corridor, Atamanenko said.
“Distances are great, but it’s workable,” he added.
He’s not yet certain where he’ll run in the next election, but says it will probably be in South Okanagan-West Kootenay because it includes his hometown of Castlegar.
Albas said he hasn’t decided where he’ll run, or even if he will run again. He previously was a city councillor in Penticton, but now lives in West Kelowna.
Albas said he’s met with Atamanenko and MP David Wilks (Conservative – Kootenay-Columbia) to discuss concerns about the boundaries.
“I believe that as MPs we have to work together to ensure the boundaries are as workable as possible for the citizens we represent,” Albas said.
He reiterated his main concern is accessibility of MPs to their constituents, adding this is a practical issue that cuts across party lines.
Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells believes the changes could result in a change of party to the Conservatives in the new riding that includes Osoyoos.
“If you add Penticton with a strong Conservative leaning and remove Nelson and Salmo, strong NDP areas, I think the potential is there to see a political shift,” said Wells, noting this area has always been a swing riding.
Wells believes that ridings running east and west are a problem in B.C. where mountain ranges and valleys run north and south.
“I think this is one of the toughest ridings in the province because you probably go through six or seven different socio-economic zones travelling from one end of the riding to the other,” said Wells, noting that commerce and agriculture patterns flow north and south.
In its report, the boundaries commission compared its task, in light of the six new districts added in B.C., to “redesigning a 42-piece jigsaw puzzle from an existing 36-piece jigsaw puzzle.”
In B.C., the population of each district is supposed to vary as little as possible from a median of 104,763 electors.
Electoral boundaries are re-drawn following every second census in order to reflect shifts in population. The current proposal is based on the 2011 census.