Friday, June 30, 2017

Wildrose and AAMDC: Electoral Boundaries Commission should protect rural Albertans

Proposed Alberta electoral divisions - AEBC map
Chris Davis - The Alberta Association of Municipal District and Counties (AAMDC) and the Wildrose Party expressed their concerns this week about proposed Alberta provincial electoral boundary changes the would see some rural electoral division shrink and/or be rearranged to allow for three new electoral divisions, one in Calgary, one in Edmonton, and one in the north-eastern portion of metro Calgary.

“Given that our population has grown by more than 20 per cent in the last eight years, a review is key to ensuring fair and effective representation for all Albertans,” said Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission (AEBC) chair Myra Bielby in January of this year.  The commission released its interim report on May 25.  According to the commission's May 25, 2017 interim report, it recommends "the amalgamation of various electoral divisions in areas of the province that have experienced rates of growth significantly below the provincial average."

The AAMDC represents 64 rural municipal districts in the province, as well as four specialized municipalities and the Special Areas Board.  According to their June 2017 submission to the AEBC, "AAMDC members cover approximately 85% of Alberta’s land mass and 18% of Alberta’s population."  The AAMDC report states it "does not believe that the Interim Report reflects the best effort to achieve ‘effective representation’ and instead, agrees with the Minority Report... which reads, 'As new ridings are added to the cities, electoral divisions must be taken from the ‘Rest of Alberta’. This results in ongoing erosion of ridings in rural Alberta and is not sustainable if all Albertans are to be effectively represented'."

"It has been the AAMDC’s position that the current electoral boundaries are at their maximum size and that expanding the boundaries of Alberta’s largest electoral constituencies will only exacerbate the existing challenges facing those constituents and their elected representatives. The AAMDC is disappointed that the consolidation of rural ridings presented in the Interim Report will only grow the geographical size of several electoral constituencies. With this comes additional challenges for elected MLAs as they would have to travel additional distances to attend community events and listen to constituent concerns." - from AAMDC's June 2017 submission to the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission
AEBC’s Interim Report recommends turning four electoral divisions into three in the central northeast area of Alberta, including Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Athabasca-Sturgeon- Redwater, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, and Bonnyville-Cold Lake.  It recommends turning five electoral divisions into four in the central west area of the province, including Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, West Yellowhead, Drayton Valley-Devon, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne, and Stony Plain.  It recommends turning seven electoral divisions into six in the eastern side of the province, including  Battle River-Wainwright, Drumheller-Stettler, Strathmore-Brooks, Little Bow, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Cypress-Medicine Hat, and Vermilion-Lloydminster.  It recommends a new electoral division north and west of Calgary due to a significant increase in the populations of Airdrie and Cochrane.

In a recent Pincher Creek Voice interview, Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier talked about the ways the proposed boundary changes will affect his electoral division. Stier said he believes some of the huge rural constituencies will be difficult for their MLAs to properly represent, particularly the Taber/Vulcan constituency. His own Livingstone-Macleod constituency is also geographically enormous. "There's many days, whether I'm sitting in Edmonton, or I'm in the truck to some other place, that I feel don't I'm doing my job as well as I should be, trying to be seen everywhere."

Proposed new boundaries for the Livingstone-Macleod riding (Alberta Electoral Commission map)

Proposed changes for the Livingstone-Macleod constituency include the addition of the Waterton and High River areas, and the elimination of Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Red Deer Lake, Millarville, and Priddis. "They have swung the boundary further south, and it goes east all the way across into what was called Little Bow, which they are now calling Vulcan/Taber," explained Stier. He added he can foresee some issues arising because High River and Okotoks work together on a number of significant joint projects but will no longer be in the same riding under the proposed boundaries. 

On June 28 Wildrose House Leader Nathan Cooper asked the AEBC "to go back to the drawing board and focus on each community’s ability to have effective representation", according to a Wildrose press release. “We share the concerns of AAMDC and are disappointed to see the Commission make proposals that could significantly undermine democratic access for many Albertans,” Cooper said. “All Albertans deserve an equal seat at the table and the proposed boundaries will leave rural folks at a serious disadvantage.”

The AEBC is accepting written submissions until July 16 (click here to make a submission) and will be hosting a series of in-person consultations (most of which appear to now be full) throughout the province this summer.

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