After every second provincial election, a commission is appointed to propose changes to electoral boundaries in B.C.
The newest commission is proposing a pair of new districts that would cut through the Comox Valley. The Courtenay-Comox district would include parts of the regional district north-west of the Area A and C boundaries. A Mid Island-Pacific Rim district would include the remainder of the CVRD from Royston and Cumberland south, and include Hornby and Denman Islands.
“To say that Cumberland has any geographical relationship to Port Alberni, Tofino and Ucluelet takes a real stretch of the imagination,” Cumberland resident Ellen Rainwalker said at a public hearing hosted by the commission Monday at the Westerly Hotel in Courtenay.
According to the commission, the population of the Comox Valley has outgrown a single electoral district. At 22 per cent over the provincial average, the Valley falls within a plus/minus 25 per cent population range, which it is projected to exceed by 2017. Conversely, at 18 per cent under the provincial average, Alberni-Pacific Rim is the Island’s smallest electoral district by population, projected to grow more slowly than the provincial average in the near future. The commission is therefore proposing boundaries that provide more effective representation by assigning some of the local population to the Alberni area. The commission has received some input requesting no change.
However, if changes are made, the public has emphasized that Courtenay and Comox would be best served in the same electoral district.
“Despite many submissions requesting no change to the Comox Valley, we concluded that the relative disparity, both now and in the near future, is too great to ignore,” Electoral Boundaries commissioner Dr. Keith Archer said.
Rainwalker feels Cumberland residents are being treated as numbers on a spreadsheet rather than people.
“Perhaps the disparity is too great to ignore, but I hope the many submissions against your proposal are also too great to be ignored, and that you will find some other solution other than splitting up our community,” Rainwalker said. “Cumberland has been part of the Comox Valley since the 1800s. By removing us, you are ignoring your mandate to consider the legacy of our history.”
She notes that many Cumberland residents work, shop, attend events and use services in Courtenay and Comox. Rainwalker spends $3.75 and less than one hour return by transit to access Comox Valley MLA Don McRae’s office in Courtenay. Were his office moved to Port Alberni, she would need to spend $60 for a round trip of six hours and 45 minutes to reach it by public transportation.
“Access to an MLA in Port Alberni presents travel challenges of long distance,” Cumberland Coun. Jesse Ketler said in her presentation to the commission. “The extreme distance between voters and the MLA creates an unfair burden on both these parties.”
Research, she added, indicates electors who identify with the community of interest within their riding are more likely to vote.
Fanny Bay resident Glen Sanford concurs that constituents are less likely to vote in a geographically vast riding where people need to travel a great distance to visit their MLA.
“There’s a serious problem in B.C. with voter turnout,” he said.
While he recognizes that Cumberland is part of the Valley, Comox Mayor Paul Ives feels it’s imperative to keep Courtenay and Comox together, considering the towns share regional water and sewer services, among other functions.
He notes recent steps by Cumberland to do things on its own. It intends, for instance, to withdraw from the regional economic development service.
“Unfortunately, there has to be a division line somewhere, but it can’t be on Piercy Avenue or Willemar or Fitzgerald,” said Comox resident Art Meyers, noting the Valley’s growing population of 66,000. “It looks like the only solution is the one that’s put on the table.”
The commission has issued a preliminary report, informed by a series of public consultations and hearings last fall. Further hearings conducted this week throughout B.C. were to conclude at midnight Tuesday. A final report must be issued to the legislative assembly by Sept. 25.
For more information, check bc-ebc.ca