Nechako Lakes MLA says new electoral rules could mean less northern representation

john rustad picture (3)

The B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission is soon going to take another look at BC’s electoral districts to ensure that each riding represents a similar amount of voters – and earlier this week, the B.C. government introduced proposed changes that will remove the required number of minimum seats in protected parts of the province, including the North. 

This means the commission could decide to eliminate some northern ridings, since some of them have much smaller populations than ridings in other parts of the province 

The new rules say new electoral districts must be within 25 per cent of the average riding population, but the commission can recommend ridings with populations outside of that range.

The NDP say they’re removing the minimum seat counts in protected areas – which were introduced by the B.C. Liberals in 2014 – to restore political independence to the electoral boundaries commission.

However, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad says he’s concerned about the potential loss of ridings in the North because the ridings that replace them would be larger in size and harder for an MLA to represent.

“What ends up happening with large areas is the priorities of various communities become drowned out. It's harder for an MLA to be able to effectively bring forward all the various issues across communities and across areas. So with less representation, it just means much more work for an MLA – which is not a problem, work is never an issue – but it becomes more difficult to be able to effectively represent all of those issues.”

Rustad also said that with less seats in the north, the region will be a lower priority for politicians looking for votes.

“Governments tend to pay less attention to areas that don't have the quite the same political weight. I don't like saying that, but that is a reality. So it'll make it much, much harder for the North to be able to push particularly for big issues, whether it's Resource Benefit Alliance issues, whether it is new hospitals, et cetera.”

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice says the proposed changes are the “right thing to do” because they restore political independence to the electoral commission.

However, she says even if it's not her party's decision to make, she hopes the commission chooses to leave most of the rural ridings as they are because of their large sizes.

"I can't really predict what's going to happen – I have to leave it up to the independent commission. I think that they will take into consideration – and this is all allowed for in the act – the special circumstances around geography and the unique needs of certain ridings. That is all allowed for within the act to be accounted for, and my hope would be that the commission would take that into consideration."

According to the 2011 census, the average population of a riding in B.C. is just over 50,000 people. Out of the six ridings with less than 30,000 people, four of them – including both Rustad and Rice’s ridings – are located in the Northwest.