The province is introducing amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act that will almost certainly reduce the number of seats in northern B.C. while increasing the number in the Lower Mainland.
The new bill would remove the amendments made to the act in 2014, which established three regions that were collectively restricted to a minimum of 17 seats, regardless of their population. That includes northern B.C., which has 10 seats from 100 Mile House north.
The previous Liberal government made the change to ensure rural and remote areas of the province maintained seats even though their population falls below the threshold dictating that each riding be within 25 per cent, plus or minus, of the provincial average.
Nechako Lake MLA John Rustad has done the math.
“B.C. has about 5.3 million people,” he posted on his Facebook page. “Increasing (the number of) MLAs from 87 to 93 means the average riding population should be about 57,000. From 100 Mile House north, there are about 340,000 people. At 57,000 average population, the north could have as few as six seats from its current 10 seats.”
Currently the Liberals hold eight of the 10 northern B.C. ridings.
The province is painting the plan as removing politics from the drawing the electoral boundaries map.
“The intent of these amendments is to ensure the location of political boundaries between seats is determined not by politicians, but by an independent commission,” reads a government press release. “The process will not be guided by political interests, but by a legislated mandate to establish effective representation for British Columbians. The commission will be asked to achieve through recommendations – to the extent possible – the fundamental democratic principle that everyone’s vote should be reasonably equal in weight in choosing elected officials.”
Other factors that will be considered by the commission under the legislation will be population, geography, means of communication and means of transportation to help ensure effective representation.
B.C.’s population is expected to have grown by over 500,000 people since the last electoral boundaries were set, much of that population growth in the Lower Mainland. The current legislation caps the maximum number of electoral districts at 87, which is the current number of electoral districts. One of the amendments would give the commission the option to recommend adding up to as many as six new districts.
The amendments continue the principles that:
- the commission must seek to recommend electoral districts with populations within plus or minus 25% of the average electoral district population; and
- the commission may recommend electoral districts with populations outside that range.
However, the proposed amendments further recognize the representation concerns in less populated regions by specifying that the commission may take into account special considerations respecting demographic and geographic factors. These factors include keeping a manageable geographic size for electoral districts in order to ensure effective representation.
However, Rustad says, “they will likely only use that for two or three ridings at most. The results will likely be a reduction in northern representation by two or three seats in the north and likely one from the Kootenays.”