Proposed new federal electoral boundaries cause confusion

Nakusp, Nelson placed in East Kootenay; New Denver, Kaslo placed in South Okanagan in proposed plan.

Were you confused back in 2003 when the Arrow Lakes were taken out of the old Kootenay-Boundary-Okanagan federal electoral district and placed with the East Kootenay, meaning that Nakusp and New Denver were now in separate ridings? Things may be about to get even odder.

Every ten years, the independent Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission is charged with drawing up new riding boundaries based upon the previous census. As shown on their website at http://www.redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca/, the commission is proposing that Nelson, Salmo, and the Beaver Valley join Nakusp and Revelstoke in the primarily East Kootenay-based Kootenay-Columbia riding, while the Slocan Valley, North Kootenay Lake, Castlegar, and Trail will join Penticton in a new South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding.

The reason for this seemingly counterintuitive change is actually quite simple: the Kootenay-Columbia riding had a net loss of residents over the past decade. The existing Kootenay-Columbia riding had 88,026 residents according to the 2011 census, a drop from 92,848 ten years ago. This loss of people has led the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission to add a portion of an adjacent riding in order to keep Kootenay-Columbia’s population within range of the benchmark 104,763 residents that every riding across the country must have on average.  The new Kootenay-Columbia riding would have a census population of 109,058.

While adding Nelson and Salmo may help balance out Kootenay-Columbia’s population woes, it creates a domino effect that alters other ridings in our area. To make up for losing Nelson, the Beaver Valley, and Salmo, the commission plans to add Penticton to the BC Southern Interior riding and rename it South Okanagan-West Kootenay. This creates an odd situation where New Denver, Silverton, Kaslo, Slocan, Castlegar, and Trail world answer to an MP in Penticton while Nakusp, Nelson, Salmo, and Revelstoke would answer to an MP in Cranbrook.  Directly neighbouring communities such as Nelson and its North Shore, or Trail and Fruitvale, would be separated from one another in Parliament.

The two new ridings would be divided between two very different voter bases, with the NDP-leaning West Kootenay/Boundary now split in half and given to two very Conservative-leaning areas. Beyond the political aspects, adequately representing such large and divided districts where one half of the residents have little in common economically culturally with the other could prove to be a challenge for whoever wins in the 2015 election.

The process, however, is hardly finalised. Public hearings will be held all over the province this fall to allow voters to express their opinions on the proposed boundaries. The meeting for our region will be held on October 2 in Nelson at the Best Western Baker Street Inn.  While attendance is open to the public, anyone wishing to make a comment or presentation at the meeting must inform the commission in writing by the end of August as per the guidelines stated on their website. Neither the federal government nor any political parties are legally allowed to have influence over this independent process.