If Monday’s public hearing is any indication, then nobody in the entire riding of Vancouver Island North favours the new map being proposed by the Electoral Boundaries Commission for B.C.
The proposed redistribution effectively splits the Comox Valley with a line through Courtenay. The eastern reaches of the city, Comox, Area B and parts of Area C would remain in Vancouver Island North. West Courtenay, Cumberland, Area A and some of Area C would transfer to the Nanaimo-Alberni riding. Powell River would also become part of Vancouver Island North.
Dividing the “tight-knit community” of Courtenay would spawn negative consequences, said Vancouver Island North MP John Duncan, represented by Leonard Landry Monday at Crown Isle. Duncan feels the suggested boundary “ignores communities of interest” that, although separate in terms of geography, are nevertheless “seamlessly integrated.” Many residents in the Comox Valley and Campbell River live in one community but shop in both — which Duncan said is not the case in Powell River. He considers the latter part of the Sunshine Coast.
Redistributing federal electoral districts provides geographic areas where voters elect members of Parliament. The process occurs every 10 years based on census results. Commissions in each province assess demographic changes and make recommendations for boundary alterations to achieve better representation in Parliament.
The commission is proposing to add six new electoral districts — five on the mainland and one on the Island — to the 36 existing federal ridings in B.C.
Duncan said the proposed boundary change would add population from the mainland, which “dilutes the value of an extra seat coming to Vancouver Island.”
And treats Vancouver Island as an afterthought.
“These concerns are serious and legitimate,” Landry said on behalf of Duncan.
“The Comox Valley is a single community,” Kathryn Askew said. “Please maintain the integrity of the Comox Valley. We are one family.”
Speakers noted a divided Courtenay would mean half the residents would need to travel south to see the area MP.
“Why would that be imposed upon us?” said Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula, adding the proposed change could shift the MP’s office back to Campbell River.
Having two MPs will “ensure duplication,” said Askew, who feels their jobs would become more challenging, time-consuming and frustrating.
Lifetime Valley resident Glen Sanford has seen electoral boundaries change over the years but said the Comox Valley has always remained intact.
Former Area C director Kel Kelly asked the commission to maintain the area as a “geopolitical unit.” He suggests a Comox Valley-Alberni riding makes more sense than the proposed change in terms of geography, overlapping interests such as coal mines and a “shared highway network that doesn’t exist between us and the Sunshine Coast.”
Project Watershed vice-chair Dr. Betty Donaldson noted the limitations of dividing geographical areas according to north-south or east-west lines. Point Roberts south of Vancouver, for example, “has become an expensive mistake,” she said.
Another federal riding adds another layer of governance, added Donaldson, noting the Courtenay estuary is already governed by four local governments, two federal departments and the K’ómoks First Nation.
“I cannot imagine how any of us will be better served if any of our territories are further subdivided,” Donaldson said. “We will become the short tail of the dog, whether that dog is Vancouver Island North riding or Nanaimo-Port Alberni riding.”
Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa and Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons both oppose the idea of splitting the lower and upper Sunshine Coast into two electoral districts.
Further hearings were scheduled for Nanaimo Tuesday and Victoria Wednesday.