Politicians throughout the Cariboo are encouraging residents to have their say as an official review of the provincial electoral boundaries gets underway in the region.
The BC Electoral Boundaries Commission (BCECB) – an independent, non-partisan body that reviews districts after every two provincial elections – is hosting meetings in Williams Lake and Quesnel this month to gather feedback from the public.
The electoral districts of Cariboo-Chilcotin and Cariboo-North will be the focus of the April 29 meetings, ridings that some local leaders suspect could be eyed for amalgamation following the review.
“The ultimate goal is to try to keep the ridings at a similar or near size in terms of population,” said Lorne Doerkson, MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin. “In rural B.C., that has always been a challenge because of the vast size of the ridings. Rural B.C. is not in a position to lose anything right now.”
The Cariboo-Chilcotin riding has a population of around 34,000 people, below the desired benchmark of approximately 50,000 per riding, Doerkson said, noting that many ridings in the Lower Mainland and Okanagan have upwards of 70,000 residents.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin electoral area stretches from around 83 Mile to just north of Williams Lake, east past Mahood Lake and west to the Chilcotin, including Kleena Kleene, Nimpo Lake and Anahim Lake.
The Cariboo-North riding has a population of around 29,000 residents and spans from north of Williams Lake past Quesnel, eastward past Bowron Lake Provincial Park and west to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park.
In addition to logistical travel challenges faced by someone representing such a large geographical area, Cariboo-North MLA Coralee Oakes said connectivity within rural ridings is also a major issue.
Lack of internet service, unreliable landlines and transportation challenges when it comes to accessing constituency offices are things many residents in remote areas of the Cariboo face, she said.
“I think it’s critically important for Victoria to understand the unique circumstances that constituents in our ridings face on a daily basis,” Oakes said.
The BCECB is in the process of touring various ridings in the province to consult the public as part of the review process. The deadline to submit feedback to be included in the commission’s preliminary report is May 31. The preliminary report will be presented to the Legislative Assembly by October of this year.
Oakes said that as of Tuesday, 13 letters from her riding had been submitted to the commission, and she encourages any residents who have concerns about the possibility of a larger electoral district to send in feedback.
Last week, the Cariboo Regional District board voted to send a letter to the commission outlining concerns about any potential reduction in representation between the two ridings, and the “dramatic impact” that would have on constituents.
Both Oakes and Doerkson noted legislation recently passed by the NDP that removed protections preventing any reduction of seats in rural districts raised concerns that ridings in the Cariboo region could be affected following the current review.
They also pointed to major issues specific to the rural parts of the province that have taken place in recent years – wildfires, flooding and highway disruptions – as something that sets those districts apart from ridings in the Lower Mainland.
“During the wildfires, it became critically imperative to have a local representative who understands what is happening in your community,” Oakes said. “In times of emergency and crisis we cannot afford to risk losing our representation, whoever that will be.”
Public meetings with the BCEBC will be held on April 29 in the Cariboo, at 9 a.m. at the Sandman Hotel in Quesnel and 3 p.m. at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex in Williams Lake.