When Federal Minister of State for Finance Kevin Sorenson’s flight was delayed, and he couldn’t make the Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon where he was to speak Tuesday, August 27, MLA Bill Bennett was asked to speak.
Bennett, the Minister of Energy and Mines for the province, said the biggest issue facing rural B.C. at the moment is that its losing its representational power on the provincial level.
“I have come to believe over my years as MLA that legislation that only takes into account representation by population as the only determining factor in constituency size across the country — but in particular here in British Columbia — is not adequate,” Bennett said.
He said he believes rural Canada has been losing its political power steadily over the past 20 years and will continue to lose it in the future as long as governments provincially and federally fail to take into account the geography of the constituency.
“I’m not addressing my comments to the federal side, because I think the issues are completely different,” Bennett said. “We’re dealing with health care, we’re dealing with education, both post secondary and K-12, we’re dealing with social services, we’re dealing with forestry, mining, oil and gas, land use, water and a whole bunch of things.”
Because of that, he said provincial representatives can’t manage as large an area as their federal counterparts.
Bennett noted the last time there was a commission to look into provincial ridings, it found they would likely be reducing rural seats in the province.
“They talked at that time of doing away with two seats in the north, doing away with one seat in the Cariboo-Chilcotin-Lillooet area and doing away with one seat here in the Kootenays,” he said. “We managed to persuade them not to do away with those seats, but we picked up six more urban seats in the next go round.”
Bennett said this dissipated the rural power by way of increasing the urban seats. He suspects the commission will continue the trend since the only factor they can look at is population.
“I can see a time in the future when we have so few seats in rural British Columbia that the decisions that affect us, mining, oil and gas, forestry, roads, wildlife management, are made by elected people who mean well, but most of them don’t live in rural areas, so they have a different perspective on all those issues.”