Proposed new electoral boundaries are chopping up established divisions all over the countryside, and so far is not sitting well with a number of municipalities.
To respond to population growth in Alberta, the Electoral Boundaries Commission was struck last summer. This five-person commission was charged to review the current electoral map and make recommendations to the Legislative Assembly. It studied where four new seats could be added, as well as finding a balance in the number of residents reflected by each riding. Electoral divisions are to be within 25 per cent of the provincial average population except that up to four constituencies may exceed that range where sparse population is spread over large areas.
In February, the commission released its interim report and it has been met with a cool response.
Under the proposal, Drumheller would be represented in a Drumheller-Brooks Riding. It would border Saskatchewan on the east. On the west, it follows the Red Deer River from north of Big Valley to south of Finnegan and then follows Highway 566 south of Brooks, encompassing Tilley and Rolling Hills. On the north end, Stettler would no longer be in the riding. Castor and Coronation will be outside, but Veteran and Consort will be included in the riding. Current Strathmore-Brooks MLA Arno Doerksen and Drumheller-Stettler MLA Jack Hayden would both live in the proposed Drumheller-Brooks constituency.
“You have to remember these are proposed changes,” said Hayden. “A lot of what they are doing is population balance. Obviously whoever you end up representing, they are still Albertans.”
He has been receiving many phone calls and e-mails from concerned residents.
“They are concerned because the trading patterns in Central Alberta are east-west not north-south,” he said.
“Like in Drumheller, you think of the Highway 9 corridor, and in Stettler, they think of the Highway 12 corridor.”
He adds, the differences in agriculture are also not reflected with the north-south alignment.
“I am encouraging people to contact the Electoral Boundaries Commission if they have concerns,” said Hayden.
Hayden’s own constituency association is planning to make a submission to the commission. In fact, the Constituency Association president, Earl Marshall, would no longer be in the riding, if the report were to be implemented.
Mayor Bryce Nimmo is concerned with the proposed changes, and says Drumheller will most definitely be making a submission.
He says the new lines that are being drawn don’t necessarily reflect the traditional relationships. The Drumheller-Stettler riding has the same kind of agriculture and oil and gas development industry.
“When you get down to Brooks and Strathmore, we have less in common with them,” said Nimmo, “that’s our concern so far.”
He does have a concern that Drumheller may not have as much clout, sharing a riding with Brooks, which has a population of about 13,000.
“Brooks is a city, so where is the MLA going to be spending his time? Quite honestly that’s where most of the votes are coming from,” said Nimmo.
Starland County made a written submission of its concerns to the commission in October of last year, taking the position to simply leave the constituency alone. If there are to be changes made, Starland suggests adding the County of Paintearth.
“We feel that the County of Paintearth, and the communities of Castor and Coronation, along with the Village of Halkirk would be the best match for our current constituency. This adjustment would add an addition 4,185 in population to the 33,195 we currently have, so our combined population would be 37,380 and be very close to the provincial average. We are currently associated with the County of Paintearth in a number of initiatives ranging from regional gravel to regional planning and water development,” said the county’s submission.
While balancing the population is a consideration, Hayden says geographical size is also a factor.
“The concern we often hear, and those of us that actually do the job feel the size of some of our rural constituencies, to be in the population thresholds, are massive. My constituency is 420 kilometres across,” said Hayden. “When you take those into consideration it becomes difficult. I have more than 20 elected bodies in my constituency. When you look at an urban constituency for example, you’ll have one city councillor and two school boards. In order to meet with every one of them and do your job, you put on a lot of kilometres.”
Ben Armstrong, Reeve of Wheatland County says the council has discussed the proposal, and are not happy with it.
One of the main concerns is the county will land in the proposed Strathmore-Chestermere riding, which he feels is dominated by urban residents.
"Population wise, I think we would lose our rural representation,” said Armstrong. “We have more in common with the County of Newell, which we are a part of now.”
“We like it the way it is, it actually took us a long time to get them to change it so we would have one MLA,” said Armstrong.
Last week at Wheatland County Council, they passed a motion to make a submission to the commission.
According to a press release from the Electoral Boundaries Commission, the commission is seeking public input on the interim report, and encourages residents of Alberta to send their comments by April 2, 2010. A second series of public hearings will be held, to be scheduled as required during the period April 12 to 30, 2010. The commission will receive comments on this report and will issue its final report in July.
Hayden does feel the dialogue is important.
“I like the process because proposals come to the people who comment on them or make recommendations, so the process itself is good. It allows the public some say,” said Hayden.
Contacts for the Electoral Boundaries Commission are as follows:
• By phone at 780.638.3132; or toll-free at 310.0000, 780.638.3132 (from outside the Edmonton calling area)
• By e-mail at email@example.com
• By mail at #100, 11510 Kingsway Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, T5G 2Y5
• By fax at 780.422.2900; or toll-free at 310.0000, 780.422.2900 (from outside the Edmonton calling area)
• In person at #100, 11510 Kingsway Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, T5G 2Y5; (on weekdays between 8:15 a.m. to noon, and 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)