IN THE NEWS ~ British Columbia NDP MPs strongly object to riding boundary changes

 

NDP MPs Peter Julian and Kennedy Stewart fight against the proposed riding boundaries before House Affairs Committee.

Laura Ryckewaert, The Hill Times

British Columbia NDP MPs Peter Julian and Kennedy Stewart have come out swinging against the final riding boundary proposed changes put forward by the B.C. Boundary Commission, and a robocall survey was even conducted in what has become an increasingly contentious area for electoral change.

On March 5, Mr. Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.), who won his riding in the last election with 49.7 per cent of the vote, told the Procedure and House Affairs Committee that the objections "go beyond Members of Parliament," and said in his riding "there is real consensus" against the boundary proposals, and "push-back has been community-wide."

Mr. Stewart (Burnaby-Douglas, B.C.), who won his riding in the election with 43 per cent of the vote, said his office has been getting a lot of written correspondence over the proposed changes and said the process is "probably the top issue in our ridings," referring to his and Mr. Julian's riding.

Mr. Stewart said he wanted to stress "how unpopular the proposals are," and said more than 50 people attended public hearings on the changes, "one commissioner told me it was the most controversial change in the whole province."

A total of 23 objections have been filed with the House Affairs Committee over the final proposed changes to the federal electoral boundaries in British Columbia as part of Parliament's 10-year review of ridings across the country. Under the new representation formula, the House of Commons will add 30 seats, going from 308 to 338 for the 2015 federal election. British Columbia has added six seats, Ontario has added 15, Alberta has added six, and Quebec has added three.

Including last week, the committee has so far heard testimony from seven of British Columbia's 36 MPs. While MPs file their objections written statements of their position on the proposed changes which require the signatures of at least 10 other MPs with the committee, they are also asked to appear to testify and answer any questions.

The British Columbia Boundary Commission has proposed the creation of a new riding to be called Burnaby North-Seymour. In an effort to reduce the population size of what is currently the riding of North Vancouver, represented by Conservative MP Andrew Saxton, the commission has proposed combining part of North Vancouver, which exists on Vancouver Island, with a northern portion of Burnaby, which is part of the province's mainland and what is currently the riding of Burnaby-Douglas, held by Mr. Stewart.

Reaction to this proposal has been heated in local papers, and was only intensified by comments made by one of the commissioners, Stewart Ladyman, in an interview with the Huffington Post Canada in 2012 prior to even the final proposals being drafted, that "there is just no way around this, but to cross the river" and combine North Vancouver and North Burnaby.

Both Mr. Julian and Mr. Stewart criticized the comments and said they heard resulting concerns from constituents that their voices weren't being heard.

Mr. Stewart pointed out that a similar proposal was put forward during the last decennial review in 2002 and he said there was the "same level of objection from community" back then. Mr. Stewart said there is "no significant community of interest" between the two areas and said they are quite "distinct." While North Burnaby has a heavy immigrant population, Mr. Stewart said North Vancouver is "not nearly as diverse" and is an affluent area. Mr. Stewart said the only physical connection between North Vancouver and North Burnaby is the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.

Mr. Stewart said considering the size of MPs' office budgets it wouldn't be possible to open constituency offices on both sides of the water, "you couldn't open one and staff it the MP would have to choose what side," to have their office on.

Mr. Stewart said many people in North Burnaby are "transit dependent" and said "transit routes are horrendous between the two" areas.

He said he also heard concerns from seniors who said it would be "almost impossible for them to make it from one side to another because they are transit reliant." At the public hearings, Mr. Stewart said a number of people who attended were service providers who spoke to the fact that services "do not flow between the two."

Mr. Stewart said he conducted a robocall survey of all the households in North Vancouver and North Burnaby. Residents in North Vancouver were called between Sept. 13 and Sept. 16, and 1,007 people responded, a 13 per cent response rate. In North Burnaby, residents were called between Sept. 20 and Sept. 24, and 1,376 people responded to questions, an 11 per cent response rate. In North Vancouver, 79 per cent of people polled said they were against the proposed boundaries, and in North Burnaby, 80 per cent of people polled said they opposed the changes, said Mr. Stewart.

Mr. Stewart provided the text of the calls to the House Affairs Committee, in addition to the findings. Mr. Stewart said the company, Direct Leap Technologies, told him the "response rate was much higher than they normally would get," and said he "tried to make the questions as unbiased as possible."

Mr. Julian and Mr. Stewart proposed maintaining the status quo for the North Vancouver riding, and rejigging the riding boundaries of the commission's proposed Port Moody-Coquitlam, Burnaby South and New Westminster-Burnaby to balance populations between the ridings.

Mr. Julian said the idea of a combined North Vancouver and North Burnaby riding is a "non-starter," but said there does exist a community of interest between south Burnaby and the west side of New Westminster.

Conservative MP Mark Warawa (Langley, B.C.), who won his riding in the last election with 64.5 per cent of the vote, also testified before the committee on March 5. He argued that a small portion of his riding that would be moved into the proposed riding of Cloverdale-Langley, which includes a total of 35 polls representing about 21,000 people, should be kept in his riding. Mr. Warawa said the area has a large Korean and Taiwanese concentration and he said Langley community cultural festivals are celebrated at an events centre located in that area.

The committee expressed concern that Mr. Warawa's proposal would leave Cloverdale-Langley with too low a population, but Mr. Warawa said it is "one of the fastest growing areas."

For each province, once all testimonies have been heard, the House Affairs Committee is responsible for drafting a report that is sent back to the respective boundary commission, which then makes the final decision on electoral boundaries.

Thus far, the House Affairs Committee has completed and returned its reports on Prince Edward Island which has four seats and no boundary changes were proposed; on Newfoundland and Labrador, where the committee received a total of three objections from its seven MPs; on Manitoba, where no objections were filed from its 14 MPs; and on Nova Scotia, where no objections were filed from its 11 MPs. The committee is still in the process of considering its report on Alberta's boundary proposals, but has finished hearing testimony from MPs.

The final boundary proposals in New Brunswick garnered a total of five objections from the province's 10 Members of Parliament. All the MPs who had agreed to testify before the committee did so on March 7, and there was consensus across party lines.

Conservative MP Mike Allen (Tobique-Mactaquac, N.B.), Conservative MP John Williamson (New Brunswick Southwest, N.B.), Conservative MP Robert Goguen (Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, N.B.), and NDP MP Yvon Godin (Acadie-Bathurst, N.B.) testified to the proposed boundaries.

Mr. Allen said a section of his current riding that lies south of the Saint John River Valley was moved into the riding of New Brunswick Southwest between the first and the final commission proposals and said that area, which includes the city of Canterbury, should be moved back. Mr. Allen said the area will "likely" become even more connected to Saint John river communities "from an infrastructure standpoint" due to a newly-established regional service commission in the area. Mr. Allen said even if the area is moved back his riding will be more than five per cent below the provincial quotient.

Mr. Allen also asked that the name of his riding be reverted back to Tobique-Mactaquac because he said it's more representative.

Mr. Williamson said he supports moving the area back into Mr. Allen's riding, and said it would help him out by reducing the size of his geographically large riding.

Mr. Williamson has a unique experience when it comes to visiting his constituencies because his riding borders the United States and includes islands.

Mr. Williamson said to visit Campobello Island he typically has to drive through the state of Maine in order to reach the island by bridge because the ferry runs irregularly.

Mr. Goguen said he objected to the removal of nine polls from his riding, all of which are located in the city of Moncton and represent a population of approximately 6,000 people, which have been moved into the riding of Beauséjour.

Mr. Goguen said the public transit system, municipal council, and economic commission all tie the area to his riding in Moncton. Mr. Goguen said the new English Moncton High School is moving to the area in 2015, which doesn't make sense if it's moved into the francophone-majority riding of Beauséjour.

Mr. Godin, whose riding would not be affected by this change, told the committee he supported Mr. Goguen's request to move back those nine polls.

Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.), a member of the House Affairs Committee who was not there to testify but was asked to voice his opinion, also said he agreed with Mr. Goguen's arguments.

Mr. LeBlanc said he did not feel the need to recuse himself from the meeting because everyone was in agreement and the proposal wasn't controversial.

The committee is expected to begin its study of Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec in April.

lryckewaert@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

Online: http://www.hilltimes.com/news/news/2013/03/11/british-columbia--ndp-mps-strongly-object-to-riding-boundary-changes/33967