Protections maintaining a certain number of ridings in the B.C. Interior may be lifted under electoral boundary reviews, which could hinder representation in rural British Columbia, according to Kamloops-South Thompson (BC Liberal) MLA Todd Stone.
Every two elections, the Electoral Boundaries Commission reviews constituencies and provides recommended boundary changes. Legislation to launch that process, which includes a mandate for the commission, was introduced this week in advance of the next election, scheduled for October 2024.
Stone said the legislation includes lifting protection of 17 ridings in the B.C. Interior, which he said is “bad news” for people living beyond Hope due to population decline in some areas, compared to population increases in the Lower Mainland.
With that, he said, is the potential for recommendation from the boundaries commission to merge ridings in areas with decreased population.
“What we’re talking about here potentially happening is the merging of existing ridings into new ridings that will be larger in geographic size than many large European countries,” he said.
Stone said representation by population is a fundamental democratic principle, but must be balanced by recognition of large geographic areas in British Columbia and the rights of people to have effective representation. He said if every riding was to have the same number of voters, a significant reduction in ridings and MLAs would come from outside of the Lower Mainland and those elected would be responsible for representing massive areas. He said constituents would need to drive 600 to 700 kilometres to see their MLAs. As a result, he added, issues important to rural British Columbia could fly under the radar.
“You would have far fewer voices representing those issues and representing those people in rural areas,” Stone said.
The commission’s mandate also allows the commission to come back with recommendations to increase the size of the legislature by up to six seats. Right now, there are 87 seats in the legislature.
Stone said he understand that seats may need to be added in the Lower Mainland due to population growth, but added it is about “balance.”
“Where we’re [Stone and Kamloops-North Thompson (BC Liberal) MLA Peter Milobar] going to put some significant pushback on the table on behalf of our constituents is if, at the end of the day, there is a push to reduce the number of seats in the Interior, the North and the Kootenays and, in fact, put in place a bunch of massive ridings that again will make effective representation very difficult,” Stone said.
He said that while the commission is independent and chaired by a Supreme Court judge, and determination of ridings and boundaries is a non-partisan exercise, the mandate is up to the government.
Protection of the ridings was put in place by the BC Liberals.
Asked if this could hurt this party due to the current urban-rural divide, Stone said pundits and columnists will make their cases about whether or not agendas are in play.
“At the end of the day, what really matters is ensuring that every British Columbian has effective representation and that, to the best extent possible, the principle of representation by population is at the centre of the recommendations that the boundary commission moves forward with,” he said.
Recommendations outlined in the proposed legislation will come back to the legislature to be debated. From there, the Electoral Boundaries Commission will hold hearings across the province to help inform the number or ridings and boundaries. Recommendations from that process will then go back to the legislature. Stone said he expects that will occur in the fall.
What about Kamloops?
Stone said that due to the number of people in the Kamloops-South Thompson and Kamloops-North Thompson ridings, he does not expect the number of ridings locally to change, though the boundaries could.
“Because Kamloops has had pretty steady growth as the urban centre it is, I’m pretty confident that we will go into this boundaries commission process with two seats in Kamloops and we will come out of this process with two seats in Kamloops,” he said.
Did you know?
• In 1991, multi-member electoral districts were eliminated and the number of seats in B.C. increased to 75 from 52.
• In 1992, the voting age was lowered to 18 from 19.
• In 1999, the number of seats increased to 79 from 75.
• In 2008, the number of seats increased to 85 from 79.
• In 2015, the number of seats increased to 87 from 85.