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What could redrawing federal boundary ridings mean for the Coast?

Could or should part of the lower Sunshine Coast be cut out of the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding? Former federal candidates chime in on some options.

Could part of the Sunshine Coast be cut out of the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding? Following a June 23 public hearing in West Vancouver, locals reached out with concerns that the federal boundary commission’s redrawing of the electoral map could affect the Coast. Let’s dig in.

What’s going on?  

Every 10 years, the non-partisan federal boundaries commissions – one for each province – study the riding maps and propose changes so as to “reflect changes and movements in Canada’s population.” With the B.C. commission looking at creating a new riding in the Okanagan between Vernon and Kelowna, and aiming for a 116,300 people per riding goal, boundary shiftings are proposed, including for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, which is sitting at about 131,000 people. The challenge comes with where do you slice the riding lines? The proposal the commission has put forth is to cut out part of West Vancouver including Park Royal, Sentinel Hill and half of Ambleside (everything east of 15th Street) – and add it to the North Vancouver riding.That brought opposition to a public hearing held June 23 in West Vancouver. MP Patrick Weiler told the North Shore News the proposal would cut the heart out of West Vancouver, saying it would rob the riding’s largest community of its economic and historical centre.

 At the hearing, there was also a suggestion among the speakers that the cut fall along the Sunshine Coast instead – the Coast getting added to the North Island–Powell River riding. 

The options

Three major party candidates for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country from the 2021 federal election attended the hearing – each with a separate opinion as to what should happen. 

Current MP Patrick Weiler says the riding should stay as it is. “All of the options to shrink the riding would actually result in people being less well represented,” he said to Coast Reporter. Weiler points to an allowance of up to 25 per cent above the 116,300-person target and that in its decision making, the commission also prioritizes maintaining communities of interest. Other options for the riding would be chopping at the top of Sea to Sky Country (Whistler area)  – leaving a geographical chasm between the new riding members of Kamloops-Thompson-Lytton and their fellow constituents – or, slicing off part or all of the Sunshine Coast.“All of those proposals I just mentioned would violate that principle, because you’re chopping up communities of interest. And at the end of the day, the idea of keeping ridings to that amount of 116,000, it’s all about representation. And in this case, it would actually result in worse representation, no matter how you slice it.”

John Weston, former Conservative MP for the riding and candidate in the last election, concurs that the riding should stay as is. But, if it must be split, he also invokes communities of interest, focusing in on local governments. 

“Ideally, the riding wouldn’t break up at all,” he said. “If you had to make any changes, don’t split a local area government, whether it’s West Vancouver or anywhere else.”

On the Coast, that would mean not breaking up Sechelt or Gibsons, but Weston did suggest slicing part or all of the Coast instead of West Vancouver. The question of meeting the 116,300 mark rings false for Weston. “If you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer,” he said. Rather than looking at the numbers, look to the quality of representation.“If you have two MPs representing the same district, sometimes you’re going to have no one taking on an important task. And other times you’ll have the two of them competing to take on an important task. And it will be done less effectively.”

Weston also notes that his comments were made on his own behalf “as somebody who cares about leadership and representation” rather than on behalf of the Conservatives. 

Former NDP candidate for the riding and Halfmoon Bay resident Avi Lewis said he was the sole speaker from the Sunshine Coast at the public hearing out of about 13 speakers. He’s in favour of the commission’s proposal, saying it makes “a ton of sense” for the Coast. 

“The reason they're proposing to move those people in West Vancouver is because that’s a contiguous landmass where there’s lots of transportation links, where people who are currently in West Vancouver, who will now be in the other riding, can get to their MP’s office easily without getting a ferry, without taking half a day of their life, or a full day of their life, to travel to a meeting and come back.”

Suggestions at the public hearing that part of the Coast should be split off instead, Lewis said would have “profound implications for democracy,” and said such a change would have a deeper impact on the Coast than in Ambleside. 

And unlike his former running mates, Lewis doesn’t want to see the riding stay as-is. 

“It’s a hard fact that if they don’t reduce the population of the riding, our votes here will count less than people’s votes in other ridings,” he said. “So they have to find 10 to 15,000 people to move into another riding and where it makes sense to do it is in an already dense urban environment where people can easily get from one part of the landscape to another without having to get on a ferry.”Looking at it politically, the Ambleside area tends to split its votes between Liberals and Conservatives. There are also three polls on Squamish Nation lands that would be moved from West Vancouver to North Vancouver under proposed changes.

Does the Coast get a say?

So, the one in-person public hearing in the riding has already taken place. Could the commission opt to slice up the Sunshine Coast without coming back to Coasters for comment? Well, the commission wouldn’t comment on that. 

“It would be premature for the Commission to comment on next steps until after the public consultation process on the published Proposal finishes on October 3, 2022,”  wrote Susan McEvoy, secretary for the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia in an email.

 

There are still opportunities for Coast residents to comment on the proposal though: There’s a virtual public hearing session on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. The public can also submit comments on the proposed changes by mail, through email at BC-CB@redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca or online until Oct. 3.

– With files from Jane Seyd, North Shore News

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