The panel tasked with reviewing BC’s federal electoral map is suggesting leaving the South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding largely unchanged, except for adding Keremeos and splitting part of Penticton off into a neighbouring riding.
In an interview, Justice Mary Saunders, who chairs the electoral boundaries commission, noted that their task began with adding another riding somewhere in BC, and then rearranging the remaining ridings so that they all have a population close to 116,000.
“Our ambition is try to have people’s votes count more or less the same as in the surrounding areas in particular and in the province,” she says.
“In areas that had particularly great growth, it becomes unfair to those region’s voters because their ballots have less power than ballots in other parts.”
Saunders says the two areas that had the strongest case for the extra seat were Vancouver Island and the southern interior. They have opted to recommend a new riding in the Okanagan to be called Vernon-Lake Country.
In making adjustments, they noted South Okanagan-West Kootenay’s population sits at 123,000, so they propose taking part of Penticton and putting it in a neighbouring riding, to be known as Coquihalla. The rest of the city would remain in the present riding, which has been represented since 2015 by New Democrat Richard Cannings.
“Cities get to the size where they just need to be in more than one riding,” Saunders says. “Vancouver has many ridings. Now we have in the interior some communities are getting so large that it’s not practical to say you by yourself are an electoral district. We wind up starting to have to divide the cities.”
South Okanagan-West Kootenay presently includes the Boundary along with Castlegar, Trail, Rossland, and the Slocan Valley in addition to Oliver, Osoyoos, and Penticton.
The commission is also calling for a smaller Kootenay-Columbia riding, where the population is now 121,000. They are suggesting hiving off Revelstoke and putting it in a riding with the Shuswap.
Conservative Rob Morrison is serving his second term as Kootenay-Columbia MP. The riding is also home to the East Kootenay as well as Nelson, Salmo, and Kaslo.
The last round of electoral redistribution saw much more dramatic changes for the Kootenays, as the BC Southern Interior riding was split between Kootenay-Columbia and South Okanagan-West Kootenay.
The commission will hold a series of public hearings in June to gather feedback on their proposal, including Kelowna on June 14, Penticton on June 15, and Cranbrook on June 20. There is no stop in the Boundary, but the commission will also accept written submissions and hold an online meeting on Sept. 28.