By Nikki Jamieson
Those who have joked that no one will want the job if the riding got bigger, are in for a rude awakening in Little Bow.
On May 25, the Electoral Boundaries Commission released its interim report to the Alberta legislative assembly. Under the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, the commission must review provincial riding boundaries after every second election, with any changes coming into effect before the third election occurs.
The report noted that although the province’s population has grown, the increase has favoured some parts of the province rather then others. As such, they recommend that four ridings in the northeast of the province be consolidated into three, combine five electoral divisions into four in the central west area of the province, combine seven southeast ridings into six and add three ridings to the Calgary, Edmonton and Airdrie/Cochrane areas.
In the southeast of the province, the reconfigured ridings would consist of Battle River-Wainwright, Drumheller-Stettler, Strathmore-Brooks, Little Bow, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Cypress-Medicine Hat and Vermilion-Lloydminster.
According to the report, the constituency of the current Little Bow riding should be combined with an area south of the former Cypress-Medicine Hat riding, extending to the Saskatchewan boundary, west along the U.S. border, with Highway 4 marking the western edge.
The new riding would contain the communities of Taber, Coutts, Milk River, Warner, the County of Vulcan, Vauxhall and parts of the counties of Warner and Lethbridge, to just north of Picture Butte.
In short, it will all be one really big riding.
“Well the initial sight of the newly named Taber-Vulcan riding is that it is monstrous. I think that the commission took into account only population in this interim carving of ridings in the south east. That is a little disappointing…mostly because rural Alberta has now taken a hit on representation in the house,” said Dave Schneider, MLA for Little Bow.
“Little Bow would actually just about double in size.”
According to the report, the new riding would not stretch across the southern edge of the province, something that is often criticized about the area’s federal riding. It also states the population of the area would be 41,683, or 11 per cent below the provincial average.
However, critics of the report say that one cannot take just population into account. This variance in population could be partially adjusted if the electoral division was changed along with that of Medicine Hat, to form two blended electoral divisions.
The current riding of Little Bow is already large, but the proposed Taber-Vulcan riding would represent a huge geographical slice of southern Alberta, cutting across the province from the southeast to northwest in an irregular hourglass shape, from the Saskatchewan/U.S border up to around the M.D. of Foothills. As such the name of the riding would be changed to better reflect its boundaries, although Schneider calls the name “negotiable.”
“Little Bow certainly described one of the natural borders that made the riding up. The Bow River actually made up a lot of the eastern portion of the riding, but the name Bow River was used federally. I don’t believe that the new name has the same ring as a natural boundary does, but as I mentioned, I think the name can be negotiated.”
According to the commission, many of the original presenters during the first round of public consultations opposed the strict application of voter parity principles, suggesting that for rural Albertans to be represented effectively, their ridings should remain unchanged even if they are less densely populated than those in urban areas. The commission also acknowledged its recommendation to add a new riding to both Edmonton and Calgary meant that two electoral divisions would disappear from other areas of the province. The 43 electoral divisions in those areas would drop to 41. Under the act, Alberta must have a total of 87 ridings.
Schneider prefers the minority report written by Gwen Day, contained under Appendix ‘A’ of the commission’s report. Day, a member of the five-member commission, disagreed with the commission’s recommendations, writing in her report, “Because the population in the cities grew at a greater rate than the population in the’ Rest of Alberta’,” there was a perceived need to achieve voter parity and increase the number of ridings in the cities. 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”. Ultimately, she recommended to preserve as many of the existing ridings as possible using allowable variances.
Schneider stressed that although he doesn’t necessarily agree with the commission’s findings, he respects what they are doing, instead urging that members of his riding speak up and express their views on the proposed changes. They will have their chance to do so this summer, as a series of public hearings will be held by the commission during the week of July 17, 2017. The second series of hearings will allow the commission to receive feedback on the recommendations made in the interim report before they finalize their recommendations and table a final report by Oct. 31, 2017.
“The commission has a job to do, and MLAs, municipalities and indeed the public, will have another opportunity to speak to, or offer written opinions on, the proposed changes this summer.”
Despite the riding potentially doubling in size, Schneider plans on running in the potential Taber-Vulcan riding — should that recommendation go through — responding, when asked, with a simple “Yes”.