Dear Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia,
I would like to first thank the Commission for seeking direct community input into the Electoral Boundary changes so that they have a better understanding of the region and whether the proposed boundaries will result in effective representation.
My presentation argues that the proposed changes fail this region’s need for fair and effective representation to the Government of Canada, and that changes need to be made on the basis of Sections 15 (2) (a) and (b) of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
Geography and community are interconnected in the Kootenay region. With steep mountains and narrow valleys, the Kootenays remain sparsely populated over a century after its major economic boom and non-Aboriginal settlement. The small communities that remain are reached by roads that have been carved off the sides of mountains. No surprise then, our communities are tightly knit with strong identities.
Knowing this as the MLA, I have endeavoured to meet those whom I represent in their communities as much as possible. This has not been an easy task.
First, the population density of my riding is approximately 2.74 persons per square kilometer. Compare that to the Fraser Valley with 20.15 persons/km2 or the Cowichan Valley with 23.12 persons/km2. Needless to say, communities are smaller fewer and further between in this area. Travel between them is difficult at the best of times. The straightest stretch of road in Nelson-Creston is 3.4km long. Over a three day period of touring my riding, I travelled more than 700km –a distance greater than Nelson to Vancouver. During the winter, blizzards, storms and meters of snowfall over highways that are like sheets of ice make travel nearly impossible. Sudden avalanches and avalanche control have stopped me from reaching Creston every year, forcing events and meetings to be cancelled. This summer, rain and wind storms prevented me from attending important community meetings regarding the Johnsons Landing slide, as trees had fallen over power lines and the highway to the north end of my riding.
Knowing what travel is like for Nelson-Creston alone, I can expertly say that the geographic realities of a riding with a population above the electoral quotient that includes Nelson, Golden, Nakusp, Cranbrook and Elkford and dozens of small unincorporated communities, or a riding that includes Kaslo, Slocan, Castlegar, and Pentincton and multiple mountain ranges and passes, simply would not be manageable.
As I mentioned, the population density of the Central Kootenays is 2.74/km2 while the East Kootenay is 2.29/km2. This is considerably less than the population density of the City of Richmond. Yet, the riding that proposes to amalgamate Nelson and Cranbrook is above the electoral quotient at 114,676 residents and is the largest proposed riding in BC. Meanwhile, Richmond West will have 98,239 residents and Richmond East has 99,359, making them two of the smallest ridings. This demonstrates that Section 15(1)(b)(ii) was not fully considered when drafting these boundaries and thus requires review.
Kaslo’s historical social, economic and political relationship has been with Nelson. In addition, Nelson has a long standing Tri-City relationship with Castlegar and Trail. Indeed, an MP for Kaslo would travel through Nelson to reach the North end of Kootneay Lake rather than take the slow-going gravel road along Trout Lake. Geography has defined our communities’ relationships in this area. Those of us in the West Kootenay rarely find ourselves tied with Penticton, and political boundaries have recognized that for nearly a century. The proposed boundary changes unequivocally separate historic communities of interest and identity, thus contravening the legislated principles of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
Based on my experiences as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Nelson-Creston, I say with 100% confidence that the boundaries as proposed will put Kootenay residents at a disadvantage and reduce their access to their representative. As I am sure you would agree, Kootenay citizens deserve fair and effective representation. Therefore, I urge you to review the proposed boundaries and consider the geographic realities and the established communities of interest and identity. In doing so you will have a better understanding of why our historical electoral boundaries have been the way they are.
Michelle Mungall, MLA
Summary points in relation to relevant sections of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act
Section 15 (2)(a) Community of interest or community or identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province
- Communities surrounding Kootenay Lake share a common history politically, socially and economically as a result of our geography. For nearly a century they have been grouped in the same electoral boundaries federally, provincially and municipally for this reason. The proposed changes fail to recognize this reality, and therefore would effectively divorce established communities of interests and identity in the West Kootenay region.
- The City of Nelson has a longstanding relationship with Castlegar and Trail as the Tri-Cities of the West Kootenay. They share a major highway corridor (Highway 3) and trade route, regional health services, a regional airport, and local government partnerships.
- Balfour, Kaslo and the North and East of Kootenay Lake’s economic relationship to Nelson is well document and established. Nelson is recognized as the business centre for the area.
Section 15 (2)(b) In order to maintain a manageable geographic size for the districts in sparsely populated rural or northern regions of the province
- The West Kootenays are mountainous with narrow valleys. On a map communities may look relatively close together, when in fact they are hours away. For example, it is a six hour drive from Nelson to Golden. Roads have many turns and bends that do not show up on maps. Indeed, our roads are not Alberta’s Highway 2, and therefore a crow’s flight path cannot be the measurement by which to determine communities’ proximity.
- The proposed changes fail to recognize the realities of the regions travel infrastructure. Namely, travel is highway-dependent where one encounters treacherous mountain passes, sudden weather conditions, twists and turns, and gravel roads labeled as highways. Boundaries that place several mountain passes within one riding severely limit citizens’ ability to access their MP’s office, attend the MPs’ events, or have their MP participate in community events. This being the case, the region’s geography determines one’s ability to engage with their representative, and the proposed boundaries will inhibit this engagement above and beyond the existing difficulties.
- The proposed boundaries fail to recognize that an MP would have to travel through Nelson, another riding, to reach the most northern parts of his/her riding. This is not practical and creates a situation where Nelson will undoubtedly be able to access two MPs regularly.
- The population density of the Central Kootenays is 2.74/km2 while the East Kootenay is 2.29/km2. This is considerably less than the population density of the City of Richmond. Yet, the riding that proposes to amalgamate Nelson and Cranbrook is above the electoral quotient at 114,676 residents and is the largest proposed riding in BC. Meanwhile, Richmond West will have 98,239 residents and Richmond East has 99,359, making them two of the smallest ridings. This demonstrates that Section 15(1)(b)(ii) was not fully considered when drafting these boundaries and thus requires review.
Nelson – Creston
Area: 13,220 sq Km
Population: 34, 883
Longest stretch of straight highway: 3.4km (Creston Valley Flats)
Distance and Travel Time:
Nelson to Argenta: 105 km – 2 hours
Nelson to Yahk: 160km – 2 hours 15 min
Yahk to Argenta: 200 to 270 km –4 hrs*
* Trip would include travel on gravel roads and the choice of a 45 minute ferry crossing (longest free ferry ride in the world) or driving over the highest year round maintained highway pass on the continent (1775m)
Persons / Sq Km (By regional district)
Source: “Environmental Trends in British Columbia: 2007 Population and Economic Activities” – BC Ministry of Environment