Large area but few people a challenge for electoral riding commission

The B.C. Electoral Ridings Commission is touring the north

Deciding on boundaries for provincial electoral ridings is a delicate task because of low populations scattered over large geographical areas, says the chair of a commission given the job of recommending changes if considered necessary.

One suggestion, made to the B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission when it held a session in Prince Rupert, was to remove the Nass Valley from the current Skeena riding and add it back to the North Coast riding, said Tom Melnick.

“But I think the direction we got from the people who presented are these are already large areas that are difficult to service for an MLA, please don’t make them any larger,” said Melnick. “The temptation might be to make the areas in the north bigger, to balance off the numbers in the south, but you can only do that so much until it becomes unmanageable and unworkable.”

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin doesn’t think removing the Nass and placing it in the North Coast riding would be a good idea.

“North Coast already is the number one most difficult constituency to represent,” said Austin of the riding which takes in Prince Rupert, Haida Gwaii and a number of coastal communities.

“The last thing I think they would want is more geography. The Nass was in the North Coast constituency for a short time, but it has always traditionally been in the Skeena riding. I think because the Nass Valley has only one road into it, and it comes down to Terrace.”

“Ultimately it’s an independent panel and not for MLAs to try to put in place things that just help them, so I hope they listen to people,” Austin continued about the boundary commission. “I don’t think there is going to be lot of change in northern BC because the communities are so far apart. It’s very hard to make geographical changes which means MLAs have to go even longer distances.”

Legislation brought in last year by the province sets a lower limit the number of ridings allotted to the northern region of the province and that number cannot surpass eight.

The commission heard from four people when it met in Prince Rupert but no one showed up for its Terrace session Sept. 23.

The commission has a mandate to review riding boundaries every second general election and this time has a $4.5 million budget.

Although no one showed up to speak with the commission at the Sportsplex Melnick said there is still time to make written submissions in advance of an initial commission report due next May. The commission panel will be back again for a second tour.

“I think we have scheduled 29 hearings across British Columbia in the next seven weeks or so and we just started last night in Prince Rupert,” said Archer Sept. 23 of the current tour.

“Week one for us is to travel through the north and hear from British Columbians about whether they have any concerns about the current configuration of electoral districts, whether the maps makes sense, whether the right community are in the right districts, whether the size of the districts are appropriate, the names of the districts are appropriate, things of that sort,” said Archer.

Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer sits on the commission as does Beverley Busson, a former commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.