The electoral boundary commission tabled its report in the House of Commons Monday and despite local opposition, Nelson would find itself in a new riding.
The Kootenay-Columbia riding would include Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo, Creston and RDCK areas A through G. Revelstoke and Golden will also be included in the riding that extends to the Alberta border.
A new riding called South Okanagan-West Kootenay will contain Castlegar, New Denver, Silverton, Slocan and Nakusp along with RDCK areas H, I, J and K.
The move is sure to be controversial in the West Kootenay where many presenting to the commission in October expressed concerns about splitting Nelson from Castlegar and Trail.
According to the commission’s report, they looked at keeping the riding as is, but it would have had a population 16 per cent below average with the changes.
“Submissions encouraged the Commission to keep Nelson, Castlegar and Trail in one electoral district,” the report states. “However, such a combination would have resulted in an electoral district with numbers well above the electoral quota.”
Nelson mayor John Dooley hoped the commission would have taken into account the economic and social connections already existing in the West Kootenay.
“It’s change, right? Would it have been better to be connected regionally a little better, in my opinion it probably would have. But having said that, I recognize the challenge of the commission was facing,” he says.
Some regional connections have been maintained. The commission report goes on to state they were encouraged to keep Nakusp and area, New Denver and the Slocan Valley in the same riding as well. This has occurred. Kaslo will also remain in the same riding as Nelson. Original proposals had the community lumped in with South Okanagan-West Kootenay essentially cutting off the community at the north end of Kootenay Lake.
RDCK Area Director D Andy Shadrack is pleased his submissions on the commission requesting Kaslo remain in the same riding as Nelson were considered.
“It made no sense what so ever, in fact it nothing but create confusion so they listened on that school,” he says.
Shadrack is used to inconvenient electoral boundaries. For the past two federal elections, area D was split in two. Now, the area is one
“They’ve resolved that,” he says, but adds, “It’s still not what I would want.”
Historically, Area D has links to Nakusp and the Slocan Valley. Now, these areas are in the South Okanagan-West Kootenay, a western alignment while Shadrack’s community is connected east. The director also has concerns about the rural voice in Parliament.
“The question must be asked, how big do these rural ridings have to get,” he says. “I feel concerned that the western seat is now going to be dominated by Penticton where before it was a rural seat.”
Dooley, looking on the positive side, says six new MPs going to Ottawa is a good thing – more representation for BC. And if the commission’s suggestions are accepted, Dooley would like to see the local representative set up an office in Nelson.
“If the boundaries stay as currently proposed it would be my hope that the least that would happen is that considering the size of the riding there would be a constituency office in Nelson as well as the East Kootenays,” he says. “That would give people on this side of the lake an opportunity to have somewhere to go to bring questions and issues they had.”
The changes could have political implications in the BC Interior. It chops the NDP-dominated riding of West Kootenay in two and attaches its remnants to two Conservative-held ridings.
The changes add almost 20,000 people from heavily-NDP areas to Kootenay-Columbia, which could have a huge impact on future elections in a riding that the Conservative Party (and the Reform Party before it) has dominated for 20 years.
Jim Gouk served as MP in the Southern Interior for 11 years until NDP Alex Atamanenko won the seat in May 2011. The former Reform/Alliance/Conservative representative sees a political advantage to the changes.
“From my political perspective, that’s the only upside,” he says. “That’s going to strengthen them as conservative ridings. It’s taken the NDP stronghold and split them in two.”
Partisanship aside, the retired MP says commonalities between West Kootenay communities should link them in federal politics and he describes the new South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding as a “string.”
“It’s the longest skinniest riding probably in Canada,” he says.
“It’s absolutely absurd – terrible,” he says. “We’re two parts at the hind end of different ridings and that’s the bottom line.”
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission reviews the boundaries of the federal ridings every 10 years making adjustments based on changes in population size and distribution. BC gained six new ridings this time — one on Vancouver Island and five in the Lower Mainland.
Federal MPs can now submit their comments to the commission, who will table a final report in June.