BC’s Electoral Boundaries Commission is proposing to move Christina Lake and parts of rural Grand Forks from the provincial Boundary-Similkameen riding to neighbouring Kootenay West.
The commission’s preliminary report, released Monday, suggests Nakusp, New Denver, and Silverton should be added to the Nelson-Creston riding, which would be renamed Kootenay Central to reflect the fact that it contains more than two communities.
To compensate for moving the Slocan Valley communities, the commission says Christina Lake should be moved from Boundary-Similkameen to Kootenay West along with parts of rural Grand Forks. The latter riding would otherwise remain unchanged.
Overall the commission suggests retaining the same number of ridings in the region, including Kootenay East and Columbia River-Revelstoke. The exercise is intended to balance out the population between ridings.
“Boundary-Similkameen is a rural riding with no major urban centre,” the commission wrote.
“We considered whether there was a way to increase the population of this riding without significantly adding to its already large geographic size. However, the terrain to the north, east and west made it impractical to adjust its boundaries with adjacent Okanagan ridings.”
Moving Christina Lake to Kootenay West better balances the population of Boundary-Similkameen with ridings to the east, they said.
However, Boundary-Similkameen MLA Roly Russell said the proposal comes as a surprise and he’s not convinced it’s a good idea, even though it might mean somewhat less work for him or whoever represents the riding.
“I trust the commission in terms of their process, but I see some concerns around who is best positioned to serve those residents,” he said.
“There are some challenges with having to travel an hour over a mountain pass to reach them, or constituents having to travel an hour over that same pass to reach their representative.”
Russell said it’s not about protecting his turf, but rather how to best serve residents.
“I’m cautious about saying I need to keep them in ‘my area.’ I really do think it’s more about how best do we provide the service and advocacy and representation for those people. I suspect that is something I will bring up to the commission.”
Russell said he thinks it make sense for Christina Lake residents to be represented from someone within the same watershed. He also said that while a lot of business can be dealt with by phone or email, it’s still “enormously” important to have face-to-face meetings with constituents.
“When I set up at the coffee shop in Christina Lake and say whoever wants to come by, come by and share your thoughts, it’s those conversations where people bring forward their issues that wouldn’t necessarily come otherwise. They wouldn’t phone or email.
“One of the challenges of a being a good representative is to balance reactive work with proactive work of reaching out to communities.”
Russell said he has spoken with current Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy about the matter. Conroy was unavailable for an interview, but in a statement said she is still reviewing the proposed changes.
The commission will now seek public feedback on its proposals, including meetings Oct. 19 in Kelowna and Oct. 20 in Nelson. The deadline for all feedback is Nov. 22, and any changes have to be adopted by the legislature by April, to take effect in the next provincial election.