North Coast riding treated specially

  • Aug. 22, 2007 1:00 p.m.

The North Coast riding, low in population but large in area, got special treatment from the Electoral Boundaries Commission when it proposed new riding boundaries for BC last week. The commission adjusted boundaries all over the province in order to give each riding approximately the same population. It also recommended increasing the total number of ridings to 81, from the current 79, to reflect BC’s population growth. This growth has been concentrated in the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan, resulting in five new seats for those areas, and one less seat for each of the North, Cariboo and Kootenay regions. The provincial average works out to just under 51,000 people per riding with the proposed new 81 ridings. The commission redrew the boundaries of the North Coast riding slightly, taking out the communities of Stewart and the Nass Valley in the north, and adding the Central Coast Regional District in the south. The new riding has the lowest population of any in BC, at just 23,135 people, less than half the average. The commission invoked a “special circumstances” provision in order to keep the North Coast riding largely the same, saying the sparsely populated area is enormous, with many communities only accessible by water or air, making it difficult to represent. MLA Gary Coons, who represents the North Coast in Victoria, said he was disappointed to be losing the Nass and Stewart but looked forward to the challenge of the new riding. However, he was concerned about the wider implications of northern BC losing a seat, saying it penalizes rural areas which have already been “ignored and hurt” by the Liberal government. “I appreciate that the unique circumstances facing people on the North Coast were taken into account, but the loss of one of our northern ridings is unacceptable,” Mr. Coons said. “It’s grossly unfair to both MLAs and their rural constituents that while some constituencies are the size of only a few city blocks, others are bigger than most European countries. This is about more than access to the MLA, it is about how varied interests are represented in the legislature.” Masset mayor Barry Pages was one of the islanders who spoke to the Electoral Boundaries Commission when it visited Haida Gwaii earlier this year. He said he told the commission that the North Coast riding should not be made any larger, as it is already extremely difficult for the MLA to visit each community in it regularly. “There’s some MLAs that can jog around their area in a couple of hours and some MLAs that can’t get around their riding in a week in a plane,” Mr. Pages said. He said he was happy to hear that the commission had agreed with him and kept the North Coast boundaries almost the same. The commission’s report is a preliminary one and simply makes recommendations. The commission will be holding public hearings between September and November throughout the province and will make a final report by Feb. 15. People can read the report and submit comments to the commission by going to the website at www.bc-ebc.ca

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