Electoral Boundaries Commission chair Justice Nitya Iyer said she has heard some common themes emerge as the commission tours the province to hear from residents in rural and urban areas.
“We are hearing a lot of concern about losing representation like we heard today - that’s common,” she told Black Press Media after hosting a public meeting in Williams Lake on Friday, April 29.
“It’s not unexpected and something we are going to have to grapple with.”
Justice Iyer said she along with commission members Anton Boegman, B.C.’s chief electoral officer, and Linda Tynan, professional local government management consultant, have heard concerns about climate change, reconciliation with First Nations, health care, transportation and where the province is headed.
“These are issues for everyone. They may be different depending on where you live, but everybody cares about them.”
Twenty-eight people attended the meeting in Williams Lake, with eight addressing the panel, including Pat Corbett, Bill Carruthers, Williams Lake city councillor Craig Smith, Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Jason Ryll, former MLA Donna Barnett, Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson, Horsefly resident and volunteer firefighter John Holland and health care worker Laura Clark.
“We cannot contemplate changes as we are in a time of reconciliation,” said Corbett, who has been involved with the tourism industry in the Cariboo where he ran resorts.
The role of the MLA will be far more vital for full and proper reconciliation, he said.
Carruthers outlined the vastness of the riding and that it is a six-hour return trip from Williams Lake to Anahim Lake.
He used the example of disaster management issues and the pressures on an MLA to advocate for residents as factor. Echoing Carruthers, Barnett said the riding spans 44,500 square kilometres, had a population of 33,520 in 2015, which includes nine First Nations communities with three different languages.
Due to many seasonal residents owning or visiting recreational properties, Barnett said six months of the year the riding’s population doubles.
Doerkson said he hopes the government will listen to the commission’s recommendations.
Both his 100 Mile House and Williams Lake offices are very busy, he said, noting circumstances have become more complicated with wildfires and landslides in recent years.
Ryll said connectivity is still an issue and one has to only drive 10 minutes west of Williams Lake on Highway 20 to lose internet or cell phone access.
Holland said both Coralee Oakes, representing Cariboo North, and Doerkson representing Cariboo Chilcotin, do not have to be educated about rural issues because they are from the communities.
Before hearing from local presenters, Iyer outlined the parameters of the commission and how a new commision is created after every second provincial election.
“Our job is to review the existing areas, boundaries and names of electoral districts and make recommendations for change.”
That process has begun by asking B.C. residents for their views, which is why they are touring the province and have not met to form any preliminary opinions about where the boundaries should be.
It was a deliberate move because they want to hear first what people have to say, she added, noting they will be finished the tour of B.C. within a couple of weeks.
Afterwards they will draft a preliminary report which will be made available for public comment by the fall of 2022, followed up by a second round of public meetings asking for input on proposed changes.
A final report will be completed after the second round of consultation and has to be submitted by April 2023 to the legislative assembly, who will accept all, some, or none of the recommendations, Justice Iyer said, confirming the final report will also be made public.
When making recommendations the commission has to consider representation by population and in order to achieve that they have to consider factors such as geographic, demographic and means of communication and transportation within electoral districts.
“The act says we have to ensure each electoral district is within 25 per cent of the population average of the electoral district, but it also says we can exceed this range where we consider it necessary to achieve effective representation.”
Currently the average is about 57,000 people within each electoral district. There are 87 electoral districts in B.C. and the act allows the commission to propose up to six new electoral districts.
Audio recordings of all the meetings are available on the website at www.bc.ebc.ca.