There’s going to be some pained shouts from the north and Interior, but B.C.’s Electoral Boundaries Commission has done a pretty good job of redrawing the map of ridings around the province.
The commission has set out two reworked sets of ridings, one for the current system and one for a new proportional representation electoral process.
The basic news is that the commission proposes creating five new ridings - four in the Lower Mainland and one in the Okanagan – to reflect the population growth there.
Instead of simply increasing the legislature by five seats, the commission recommended reducing the number of seats in rural B.C. by three.
The Caiboo-Thompson goes from five seats to four; the Kootenays from four to three; the north from eight to seven ridings.
The end result is that the legislature goes from 79 to 81 MLAs and urban areas get more political clout.
The three commissioners faced a tough task. Their principal mandate was to look at the province's changing population and come up with riding boundaries that would ensure that each MLA would represent about the same number of people.
Sounds easy. Figure out how many MLAs you want, divide that number into the total number of eligible voters and come up with ridings with have roughly that number of people, ones that make sense, where people share a set of interests.
But it's not that simple. Our system, no matter how it's tweaked, is messy. Right now, Lorne Mayencourt represents 75,000 people in Vancouver-Burrard; Gary Coons represents 28,000 people in Prince Rupert and in the North Coast riding. That hardly seems fair.
But Mayencourt's riding is nine square kilometres. In a day, he can cover every corner - walking. Coon's riding is 66,000 square kilometres. It can take three days to visit one community.
There's no real arguing against the commission's recommendations, based on the underlying assumption that ridings should all include roughly the same number of people. On that basis, the Lower Mainland should have 75 per cent of the seats.
And it all makes sense, when you're drawing lines on a map.
But for those regions seeing fewer MLAs, the result is discouraging. The candidates are a little less interested in your concerns. It's farther to drive to the constituency office for a meeting.
When a vote comes up in the legislature, there are fewer people knowledgeable about the local issues. (OK, that is a little idealistic. It often seems that MLAs spend more time promoting their party and leader than their constituents’ interests.)
And, broadly, there's a big political shift under way. In the 1986 election, there were 69 ridings. The Lower Mainland had 45 per cent of the seats, and back then the Fraser Valley barely counted as urban.
The legislature - and the Socred cabinet - was dominated by MLAs from rural and resource communities.
If the commission's recommendations are accepted, Lower Mainland MLAs will dominate the new legislature. Vancouver and its sprawl will have 57 per cent of the seats in the house.
For the first time in the province's history, a party will be able to form government without electing a single MLA from outside the Lower Mainland.
You can understand how that will worry people in the rest of B.C., especially because they feel they have been forgotten for much of the last six years by the Liberal government. Even now, with the economy doing well across the province, many rural communities fear not enough is being done to prepare for the crash when the pine-beetle-damaged wood runs out.
But there’s no avoiding the reality that our system is based on representation by population, and ridings need to be roughly comparable. Given that, the commission did a good job of redrawing the map.
It also took some useful steps to make ridings more appropriate, bringing like communities into the same riding to ensure a set of common interests and concerns. That will help voters, and MLAs.
Footnote: The commission will now listen to submissions before submitting a final report. Expect minor tweaking at most. Then the politicians have to make the final decision, and will face pressure to add a couple of seats in rural areas.
The report also set out proposed ridings for the single-transferable-vote system of proportional representation. That’s a different column.