More local government elected officials are opposing a proposed change to the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country federal riding.
The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) board voted at its Sept. 13 meeting to write a letter to the Electoral Boundaries Commission of B.C. opposing the proposal to put Powell River Regional District, except for Lasqueti Island, in Vancouver Island North.
Boundaries are being redrawn to create six new federal ridings in B.C., due to population increases. The commission’s proposal has the Lower Sunshine Coast staying in the existing riding, which would include West Vancouver, Whistler and Squamish.
Alice Lutes, Sechelt’s representative on the SCRD board, attended the commission’s first public hearing on Sept. 10 in North Vancouver. She said she made a presentation, as an individual, opposing the change, as did seven other people from the Sunshine Coast.
“Everyone wanted to stay together with Powell River,” Lutes said. “Everyone is suggesting that the commission look at joining us back up with Courtenay-Comox, removing us from West Van, because we have such little common interest with the urban area.
Other speakers at the hearing suggested the Lower and Upper Sunshine Coast should be added to the Vancouver Island North riding, which would eliminate the need for a riding spanning the Burrard Inlet.
“Speakers understood how important staying together is for Sunshine Coast communities,” Lutes said. “They were reinforcing our statements, which was really awesome.”
Lutes said she had the feeling the commission members were listening.
The former mayor of Sechelt, Darren Inkster, addressed the strong connection between the two First Nations on the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt and Tla’amin (Sliammon), she added.
“That seemed to really grab their attention,” she said.
Lutes reported that John Hall, chair of the commission, said members had looked at numbers at the beginning of the process, trying to have 104,763 residents in each constituency.
“He felt, from listening to our presentations, he was starting to weigh heavier to community interests, common interests, natural communities, rather than forcing numbers into a box,” she said. “That was really encouraging to hear that.”
Gibsons Coun. LeeAnn Johnson has written a letter to the commission outlining her reasons for opposing the proposed change.
“My concern is around separating Powell River from the Lower Sunshine Coast,” she said. “There’s a broad feeling in the community that we have way more in common with Powell River ... than we do with West Vancouver.”
Urban and rural areas have different concerns when dealing with federal jurisdictions, Johnson pointed out. Policies and ministries handling rural and urban concerns tend to be different and more consideration should be given to providing ridings with shared economic, social and geographic concerns so that rural areas are able to have their concerns better represented.
“How can an MP be fairly asked to be well informed and up to date on the complex issues of Lower Mainland urban areas and at the same time the complex issues of rural coastal areas that have urgent concerns, but to different ministries,” she said.
“There are many good reasons to keep the Sunshine Coast in one federal riding. It doesn’t make sense to cut us in half,” said Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons.
The Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast have more in common with each other than either does with their neighbouring constituency, he said.
“Both the Upper and Lower Coast are cut off from larger neighbouring regions, but together they share similar demographics, transportation issues, access to health care, climate, coastline and history,” he said. “By themselves, the Upper or Lower Sunshine Coast voices would be subsumed by their larger neighbours. By keeping the Sunshine Coast together we would be far more capable of speaking with a cohesive voice on issues of political concern to us all.”