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Voters, politicians say no thanks to new North Shore ridings
Few voters and even fewer politicians are supporting a plan to redraw the North Shore’s federal electoral map, saying the proposed plan just doesn’t make sense.
Dozens of angry residents from Deep Cove to the Sunshine Coast and all places between came to a Monday night hearing of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for B.C., complaining that plans to redraw the region’s vote map ignore natural community ties and boundaries.
The three-member commission is charged with delivering six new federal ridings to B.C. before the next election, bringing the province’s MP count up from 36 to 42 to reflect our population growth in Ottawa.
That’s undoubtedly a good thing for fans of democracy in B.C. But all but reportedly one who spoke at the hearing objected to how the proposed new ridings have been drawn.
As they stand now, the commission’s plans are to take Powell River and Texada Island out of the sprawling West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding and tack them onto Vancouver Island North, while splitting the North Vancouver riding in two and marrying its eastern half with North Burnaby. Called Burnaby North-Seymour, the new riding would comprise all of the District of North Vancouver east of Lynn Creek and all of Burnaby north of the Lougheed Highway.
These changes are intended to bring the two large North Shore ridings in line with what the B.C. commission considers the ideal riding population of 104,000. Currently, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country has 133,910 constituents, North Vancouver has 127,330 and Burnaby-Douglas has 123,275.
At one point during the hearing, the opponents appeared to have won a change of heart in at least one commissioner.
“Speaking for myself, when I entered upon this process some months ago, I was perhaps more impressed — if I can use that terminology — with the requirement to be rather close to the median number,” said the Hon. John E. Hall, the only commissioner to speak to attendees at Monday’s meeting. “But as the months have gone by I think I have shifted my thinking a little bit more in favour of historic and community interests; the commonality of interests.”
While a Burnaby North-Seymour riding isn’t without precedent — the riding existed briefly in the late 1960s and early ‘70s and was almost resurrected in 2002 in the face of overwhelming opposition — today, residents on both sides of the Burrard Inlet say Burnaby and North Vancouver share little if anything more than proximity to the bridge at the Second Narrows.
Today, opposition to the plan includes North Van district mayor Richard Walton, councillor Roger Bassam, North Van city councillor Don Bell and Burnaby-Douglas New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart.
“The people I have spoken with are concerned that there is no natural connection between North Burnaby and the Seymour area, and that they would rather have one MP resident in North Van serving the entire region, even if it meant a larger number of constituents,” Walton told The Outlook in an email Tuesday. “I tend to agree with that position… sometimes geography should trump proportionate representation when there are natural boundaries.”
MP Stewart this week went a step further and surveyed every North Vancouver household that would be included in the new riding. Of the approximately 11,000 homes called, 7,000 answered the phone and approximately 1,000 answered the question of whether or not they supported the formation of the Burnaby North-Seymour riding.
“About 165 supported the redistricting proposal, 609 were against it and 233 were undecided,” Stewart told the commissioners Monday. “When you take out the undecided responses, you have about 79 per cent of the North Vancouver residents against this proposal with about 21 per cent supporting.”
The new riding would also cut off the Squamish Nation’s Seymour Creek reserve in the east from its Capilano and Mission reserves to the west, weakening the nation’s representation over both ridings.
Coun. Bell has served in almost every elected office in North Vancouver, from school board chair to North Van district mayor to Liberal MP from 2004 to 2008. In 2002, he appeared before the same commission looking to establish a Burnaby North-Seymour riding and then, as now, he opposed the idea.
“I think that there’s more motivation to do it this time,” Bell told The Outlook in a phone interview Monday. “And I think the Seymour area will suffer when it’s linked with North Burnaby because there isn’t a geographic similarity there, nor is there a sense of community demographically.”
Coun. Bassam agreed, saying the two communities often differ on issues like the proposed twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, which “one community might be looking at as jobs and economics, whereas the other might be looking at its environmental impacts.”
Or, as Burnaby resident and transit driver Albert Melenius told the commission Monday: “They have different industries and different incomes, different social mixes and even different weather.”
More damaging still, Bassam said, is the further voter disenfranchisement the new arrangement could bring to those roughly 30,000 North Van residents who would join the predominantly Burnaby-centric riding.
“What should be more concerning for us is the sentiment that people think at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because the politicians aren’t accountable to the local people anyways because they all follow the party line,” Bassam told The Outlook in a phone interview Monday. “So it really becomes a matter of are you going to get someone who’s philosophically aligned with you as a result of this or not?”
That may sound abstract, but if the last federal election were run again with the Burnaby North-Seymour riding in play, in all likelihood Kennedy Stewart would not be MP.
“I don’t think it’s politically motivated but it does have political realities,” is how Coun. Bell put it.
In the 2011 election, Stewart beat his Conservative rival for the Burnaby-Douglas seat with 21,000 votes to his opponent’s 20,000. In fact, the past four Burnaby-Douglas elections have gone NDP with a margin of just 1,000 votes.
Recall the 2011 election in North Van, however, when Conservative MP Andrew Saxton beat the Liberal candidate 29,000 ballots to 18,000, with the New Democrat candidate scoring under 10,000. With even some of those North Van Conservative and Liberal ballots in play in Burnaby, the election outcome could be much different.
“It’s a big swing,” Stewart told The Outlook. “If they replay the last election, instead of winning by two per cent, I would have lost by seven. That’s a big swing.”
In an e-mail to The Outlook Tuesday, MP Saxton said his preference “would be to continue serving the people of North Vancouver with the current boundaries, however, given the population growth on the North Shore in recent years and the need for new seats in British Columbia, I recognize the status quo is not an option.”
The B.C. federal electoral boundaries commission’s next public hearing concerning the possible Burnaby North-Seymour riding is in Burnaby on Oct. 18, the last date of hearings for all affected communities. The commission will then discuss its findings before making their final recommendations to the House of Commons.