More than 113 kilometres and a large mountain range separate Port Renfrew on the western side of Vancouver Island and Mill Bay on its eastern side.
The first community is a quiet, remote community of little more than 100 people, connected to Greater Victoria by more than an hour’s drive along a winding coastal road. The second is largely a bedroom community, home to more than 3,000 people just off the Malahat Highway, 30 minutes away from the capital in the opposite direction.
Yet under the final recommendations from the Electoral Boundaries Commission, these two very different communities will find themselves in a new electoral district called Juan de Fuca-Malahat, one of six new ridings that will up the total number to 93.
It is one of a series of changes recommended for Vancouver Island that are also likely to cause some head-scratching.
Three ridings currently encompass an area from Ladysmith through Nanaimo and Parksville north to Qualicum Beach. The commission noted that the Nanaimo is too large for a single electoral district. So it proposes to divide the city into two ridings: Nanaimo-Gabriola, which includes the northern downtown core north to Departure Bay as well as Gabriola Island; and Nanaimo-Lantzville, which includes the growing northern half of the city as well as the closely linked community of Lantzville.
This change, however, means that communities to the north and south of the two Nanaimo ridings may soon find themselves in the new riding of Ladysmith-Oceanside, whose future MLA would have to drive through the two Nanaimo ridings to get to the most southern and northern parts of the riding.
Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainable Economy Adam Walker, who represents Parksville-Qualicum for the NDP, said the commission heard from a lot of people, adding it is important that Nanaimo receives representation from two MLAs. “The boundary commission did the best they could to make it work,” he said.
Walker added that Qualicum Beach is not that far apart from Ladysmith, and, if elected, New Democrats would make sure that residents of Ladysmith would be served.
Other changes on Vancouver Island won’t be as radical. In the case of Saanich North and the Islands, where the commission had initially proposed to separate the Central Saanich neighbourhood of Brentwood Bay from the rest of the municipality, that is not going to happen.
Liberal House Leader Todd Stone generally praised the work of the boundary commission.
While somebody will always complain no matter where the boundaries are drawn, British Columbians can be confident in the non-partisan work of the commission, Stone said. It has to balance population according to the principle of representation by population with the principle of effective representation, including manageable riding sizes and communities of interest.
“This is not an easy task,” he said. “Secondly, our caucus is very grateful that no ridings have been eliminated in the Interior or the North.”
The commission has actually created an additional seat in the Okanagan, Stone added. Metro Vancouver (Vancouver, Burnaby) will also gain two seats, as will the Fraser Valley (Langley, Surrey).
Stone, however, tempered this general praise with some specific criticism concerning Vancouver Island.
“There are a lot of funky changes that are being made to the boundaries in different parts of the province, but nothing as funky as what they are doing on Vancouver Island,” he said.
“I think what has happened in Vancouver Island’s case, the community’s interest has been compromised a bit more than perhaps it has in the past so as to ensure that the ridings on the Island are more balanced in their populations,” he added.
Vancouver Island is not the only region in the province some notable changes. Kamloops will retain both ridings, but they will come with different names and different shapes.
Kamloops’ urban core will find itself in the riding of Kamloops Centre, which roughly resembles a postage-stamp. It includes all of the urban parts of the riding Kamloops-South Thompson represented by BC Liberal House Leader Todd Stone and the urban parts of Kamloops-North Thompson represented by BC Liberal Peter Milobar for a total population of some 60,000.
As for the much larger riding of Kamloops-North Thompson, it combines all of the suburbs and rural parts of Stone’s riding with the suburban and rural parts of Milobar’s riding, which currently also includes communities north of Kamloops like Clearwater.
“It’s like a half-donut that wraps around the core,” Stone said.
Stone said both he and Milobar will run again, adding that they will reveal additional about where they will run in the coming days and weeks.
The calculations of Stone and Milobar mirror a large process. “All of our members and indeed all members of the legislature have some very personal decisions to make in the weeks ahead, ” he said. The first question is whether to run again. “I know of a number of members of our caucus from what I understand or what I have been told are likely not going to run again,” Stone said. He declined to reveal their names and numbers when asked.
The next question is where to run in the light of the boundary changes, he added.
“Expect over the coming weeks lots of announcements,” Stone said.
House Speaker Raj Chouhan formally tabled the report Monday (April 3) and a motion to adopt the report could come as early as this week. Once MLAs have voted on the motion, legislation creating the new ridings will come forward, possibly after the Easter break.