The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of British Columbia (the Commission) was established on February 21, 2012, pursuant to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-3 (the Act), to reconfigure the boundaries of British Columbia's federal electoral districts. The Commission is mandated to provide for 42 electoral districts, an increase of 6 over the previous total of 36. This alteration is required because of an increase in the population of the province to 4,400,057, according to the 2011 decennial census. The Act mandates boundary adjustments at 10-year intervals to take account of population size and distribution within a province. The electoral quota for British Columbia is 104,763 residents per electoral district.
Three commissioners have been appointed to the Commission: Mr. Justice J. E. Hall of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Mr. Stewart Ladyman and Dr. J. Peter Meekison. Both Dr. Meekison and Mr. Ladyman have impressive backgrounds and qualifications in the educational field. Mr. Ladyman has previously served as a commissioner with the Cohen Commission, which recently reconfigured provincial electoral boundaries in British Columbia. Dr. Meekison was a commissioner of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
The electoral quota in a province is determined by dividing the total population by the number of electoral districts. The Act provides that the population of each electoral district should, "as close as reasonably possible", correspond to the provincial electoral quota (s. 15(1)). In making decisions about appropriate electoral boundaries, the Commission is required to consider a number of factors. These include "the community of interest or community of identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province" and "a manageable geographic size" for rural or sparsely populated districts (s. 15(1)(b)). The Act permits deviation from the electoral quota by 25 percent more or less (s. 15(2)). The deviation can be greater in extraordinary circumstances.
British Columbia, by reason of its topography and concentration of population in the southern sectors of the province, presents a number of challenges in the configuration of appropriate electoral districts. The animating spirit of the Act is one person, one vote. But as a number of court rulings have made plain, a key consideration for the proper operation of Canadian democracy is the concept of "effective representation". An electoral district whose geographic size is unmanageable or whose population deviates greatly from the electoral quota would not conform to this vital concept.
While a uniformity of population numbers across electoral districts could be thought ideal, placing too much emphasis on this could sacrifice other perhaps more vital considerations, such as historical patterns and community of interest or identity. Given the province's physical geography, these latter considerations are of paramount importance. We have endeavoured to give them prominence in order to achieve the effective representation of British Columbians in Parliament. We have also borne in mind the need for proper representation of First Nations communities and have been reluctant to divide such communities between different electoral districts.
In British Columbia, given the often mountainous topography, due regard must be paid to transportation corridors. It is also important to look at road access and natural landscape features. In some cases, boundaries of municipalities, regional districts or urban localities serve as useful delineators. Natural topographic features such as valleys or watercourses as well as major roads are also useful markers. Considerations will obviously be quite different in an enormous electoral district like Skeena—Bulkley Valley compared to an urban district in Vancouver.
After an initial orientation conference hosted by Elections Canada in late February 2012, the Commission set to work. We quickly discovered that it is a challenge to reconfigure federal electoral boundaries in British Columbia when the mandate requires designing six additional seats, being one sixth of the previous number of electoral districts. While consideration was given to the province as a whole, it soon became apparent that certain areas of substantial population growth would require the most concentrated attention.
The most rapid population growth in the province has been between the North Shore and Chilliwack. As well, there has been significant population growth on Vancouver Island, particularly in the eastern and southern areas. Substantial growth was also noted throughout the Okanagan and in the Kamloops area. As we worked our way through these regions, it became apparent where new electoral districts ought to be created. It may be noted that anticipated population growth is a possible consideration when creating new electoral districts. While this involved some forecasting, recent trends and patterns provided helpful guidance.
It is our initial conclusion that major change is not presently required for the three large Northern British Columbia electoral districts. We are only proposing a modest change in the Prince George—Peace River electoral district. Skeena—Bulkley Valley is somewhat under the electoral quota, but given the vast dimensions of this electoral district, any expansion would simply accentuate the already significant challenges of representing Skeena. The other two northern electoral districts do not deviate greatly from the electoral quota.
That said, change is to be found to a greater or lesser extent in all remaining areas of the province. Going from west to east, we are proposing the addition of one seat in the southern region of Vancouver Island, to be named South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca. A major driver of this change is growth in and about the greater Victoria area, particularly in the western communities.
Population growth in Vancouver necessitates an additional electoral district in the city. Accordingly, we are proposing that a new electoral district be created along the spine of Granville Street. In general terms, the addition of this electoral district does not appear to have wrought any dramatic changes in the boundaries or composition of the pre-existing Vancouver districts.
Some changes are also required for the North Shore electoral districts because of population growth over the last several years. We have provisionally concluded that portions of two electoral districts abutting Burrard Inlet must be amalgamated, namely the easterly portion of North Vancouver and the northerly portion of Burnaby—Douglas. This alteration was considered by our predecessors on the 2002 electoral boundaries commission, but ultimately not recommended in view of certain objections. However, given the population growth in the North Vancouver, West Vancouver and Sunshine Coast areas, as well as the parliamentary mandate to create six new electoral districts (mostly on both sides of the Fraser River east of Vancouver), we believe the alteration can no longer be postponed. In our present view, it would also be appropriate to include Powell River in the electoral district of Vancouver Island North.
In addition, the more southerly of the two Burnaby electoral districts has undergone some modest alteration and been renamed Burnaby South—Deer Lake (formerly Burnaby—New Westminster). There are also a number of new configurations of electoral districts in the areas around Port Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and New Westminster on account of population growth there.
Further east, Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge (formerly Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission) has been reconfigured to take account of significant population growth in those suburban areas. The Mission area has ceased to be part of the district. At the same time, we are proposing the creation of a new electoral district called Mission—Matsqui. While we were reluctant to cross the Fraser River in this new district to incorporate what was previously part of the Abbotsford electoral district, numerical considerations appear to dictate such a course. The Mission Bridge should afford adequate access between the two components of this new electoral district.
Moving now to the south side of the Fraser River, we have made some modest alterations in the geographic area of Richmond. The renamed Richmond East electoral district no longer includes a part of the municipality of Delta. This alteration results in populations somewhat below the electoral quota in the new Richmond West and Richmond East electoral districts. But in view of recent population trends, we expect this deviation will correct itself before long.
The explosive population growth in the geographic area between Delta and Chilliwack south of the Fraser River dictates the need for additional electoral districts there. In particular, the Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford geographic areas have seen remarkable population growth. We have created two new electoral districts in these areas and have made considerable alterations to the boundaries of pre-existing districts. While not always able to achieve the electoral quota in new and redesigned electoral districts, we consider the deviations acceptable with regard to anticipated growth patterns. We have sought to make use of significant roads and other boundaries to respect community of interest and identity, but may have fallen short of perfection given the magnitude of population change there.
In Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, the substantial boundary reconfiguration is driven in large part by significant population growth in adjacent districts. This is a fairly large electoral district, but it is worth noting that its proposed dimensions are smaller than those of the large northern districts.
Moving further east, there has been substantial population growth in the former Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo and Kelowna—Lake Country electoral districts. No new electoral districts have been created in the Thompson, Okanagan or Kootenay-Columbia geographic areas. However, the robust growth in the two aforementioned electoral districts has made it necessary to propose significant boundary changes in these and several nearby districts. In doing so, we have endeavoured to factor in communication and effective representation.
It is probably fair to expect a continuation of steady population growth throughout the Penticton-Vernon corridor. Some of these Interior electoral districts are undeniably large in extent, but again, not particularly so when compared to the northern districts. We have endeavoured to keep changes in these electoral districts as modest as is consistent with the aims of voter parity and effective representation.