There was no where to go but west when the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission began looking into shuffling B.C.’s ridings.
The commission tabled its report in the House of Commons on Monday, recommending that Nelson be included in the riding of Kootenay–Columbia. The changes are necessary to accommodate B.C.’s growing population, which has grown from 3.9 million people to 4.4 million since the boundaries were last shuffled in 2002.
MP for Kootenay–Columbia David Wilks said having Nelson in his riding was expected as the size had to be brought up to include 105,000 people.
“It wasn’t surprising to me,” he said. “We’re right next to the Alberta border. There was only one place they could move — and that’s west.”
Currently, Wilks’ riding contains the entire Regional District of East Kootenay, Nakusp, Creston, Subdivisions A, B, C and K of the Regional District of Central Kootenay and a portion of Subdivision D, Revelstoke and Golden.
The new proposed boundary will add Nelson, Salmo, Regional District of Central Kootenay Subdivision G, E south of the Kootenay River, parts of F and H, Columbia-Shuswap Regional District subdivisions A and B and finally, Regional District of Kootenay Boundary subdivision A.
The new changes will accommodate six new ridings in B.C., mostly in the Lower Mainland and one on Vancouver Island. The total of federal electoral ridings will jump from 308 to 338 once the entire country has been divvied up.
The changes will welcome 20,000 extra people into Wilks’ riding, bringing the total population up to between 107,000 and 109,000 people, he estimates.
In the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission report for B.C., the commission writes that the Kootenay–Columbia riding was a challenge.
“The commission was faced with the challenge of determining how to reconfigure the existing electoral district of Kootenay-Columbia, which demonstrated a variance of 16 per cent below the electoral quota. The commission determined that the only route of expansion was to the west. The proposal recommended crossing the Salmo-Creston (Kootenay Pass) and included the communities of Nelson and Salmo.”
The commission heard submissions from the public at meetings in October that Nelson, Castlegar and Trail should be kept in the same riding, but ultimately the decision was made to split them up.
“Such a combination would have resulted in an electoral district with numbers well above the electoral quota,” the report reads.
Alex Atamanenko, NDP MP for B.C. Southern Interior has been outspoken in his opposition to Nelson leaving his riding, which will become South Okanagan–West Kootenay. Wilks said he is sympathetic, but the changes were necessary.
“I understand Alex’s concerns,” Wilks said. “The commission had a really difficult job to do.”
The report was tabled on Monday, but Wilks said it will still have another process to go through before it is finalized, so Nelson remains in the riding of B.C. Southern Interior for now. If the changes go through, they will come into effect for the 2015 federal election.
Wilks doesn’t expect much to change when the campaign trail lights up, as he already has to travel long distances within his riding that stretches from Cranbrook to Revelstoke, and includes Nakusp.
“It won’t complicate things too much,” he said, noting that he has to travel across the B.C. Southern Interior riding to access Nakusp already.
He confirmed he will run again in the next election, and should Nelson come under his riding in the new changes, he will be establishing an office there.
Besides including Nelson, Wilks said the only other option would have been to section off parts of Sicamous and Salmon Arm, which would have created an even larger riding.
“It’s five and a half hours for me to drive Sparwood to Revelstoke – on a good day,” Wilks, who lives in Sparwood said. “It makes sense that it’s Nelson.”