More than 30 Quesnel residents packed into a conference room at the Sandman Hotel to present to B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission.
The non-partisan three-person commission is made up of supreme court Justice Nitya Iyer, B.C.’s Chief Electoral Officer Anton Boegman and Linda Tynan, a local government consultant.
The B.C. Electoral Boundary Commission meets after every second election in the province, and proposes changes to riding borders. They consider population, geography and the area’s communication and transportation situation when proposing changes.
Iyer called her appointment to the commission “a real privilege.”
“I know there’s concerns, we’ve heard them here, we’ve heard them elsewhere about us being political,” she said.
“I can’t control the structure under which we’re appointed, but I can assure everybody that we are not (political).”
Commissioners are authorized to propose adding up to six new ridings during their 2022 assessment, and after giving their recommendations, further consultation with the public in the affected areas is planned.
Two local politicians, MLA Coralee Oakes, and Quesnel city councillor Ron Paull presented to the commission as individuals, advocating the Cariboo North’s riding boundaries remain the same.
Paull noted many people in the community are worried the Cariboo North riding will be amalgamated with Cariboo-Chilcotin or a Prince George riding.
“It’s popular perception is that the commission or the province or both are intent on dividing ridings on the basis of population alone, not area” Paull said.
“I do clarify, that is perception more than reality.”
The Cariboo North riding has under 30,000 people living in it, well below the 58,000 (plus or minus 25 per cent) minimum set by legislation. During the last commission in 2015, northern ridings were protected by legislation.
“If more ridings are needed to satisfy growing urban population, please do not do it at the expense of non-urban ridings,” Paull said.
“I would remind the commission that the 87 riding count could simply and legally be increased by six to 93, and even beyond that with legislative change. We in the large, rural, resource based ridings are challenged with needs and issues far beyond and unique to those of our urban counterparts.”
Oakes noted that she believes special circumstances exist for the Cariboo North, and the riding’s boundaries should remain the same.
She said much of the riding, which stretches from Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in the northwest to Horsefly in the southwest, lacks connectivity and cell service.
“Any geographic area added to Cariboo North, would make it logistically impossible for a constituent to travel to meet with their MLA in a day’s travel, and this alone should be the foundation for special consideration,” Oakes said.
Oakes also pointed to the disasters of recent years, including wildfires, flooding and landslides which have needed close attention from the MLA. She needed a moment to compose herself when recalling the damage caused by flooding in the region.
“If a district’s boundary becomes too large, it limits the ability of achieving support,” she said.
“Many of the people here today are those residents and constituents who have been impacted by road damage, impacted by fire. It is personal. For so many people, they are still looking for help.”
This is the fourth of five travel weeks for the commission, which has criss-crossed the entire province.
“The group today (in Quesnel) was one of the largest we have seen,” Iyer said after the meeting.
“It’s hard to know, because different people can make in-person meetings, and we’re really restricted in the amount of time we can have them at, because we’re trying to cover as much of the province as we can… I think we’re getting a good feeling of different British Columbians views about these topics.”
Later that day, the commission held another public meeting in Williams Lake.
A virtual meeting for the Cariboo North riding will be held on May 5. They expect to announce their recommendations in a report this fall. More information on the process and upcoming meetings can be found online at bcebc.ca.
The commission also accepts submissions by mail, at PO Box 9275, Stn Prov Govt Victoria, BC V8W 9J6.
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