Friday, February 14, 2014

BC Bill 2 - the Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act, 2014

As far as I can tell the amendments proposed to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act are what was set out in the government white paper.  What they have is create three regions with protected numbers of seats

Here are the main issues with the idea:

  • Kamloops and Prince George will each gain a seat from rural areas
  • The largest possible population riding in Northern BC will be smaller than the smallest possible population on the south coast.  Each vote in the north will have the weight of  1.74 people in the south
  • The hard boundaries mean some areas will be cut off from ever being allowed to be connected to the their neighbours
  • The area of the most rural ridings in BC will get larger
  • The chances that someone could win government but get fewer votes than the main opposition party is higher.
  • The model proposed seems to go against court rulings like Dixon and the Saskatchewan Reference.  I do not see how this model could survive a court challenge.  If there is a successful court challenge, the 2017 election will likely have to be fought with the current boundaries.

I had honestly not expected to see the ideas as set out in the white paper make it to this stage.   The problem in BC has been that urban areas of the province have growing populations and rural areas have stagnant or decling populations.  Ridings are supposed to have populations of +-25% from the provincial quota of 51,765.

In the last go around in 2008 the commission bent the law beyond what was reasonable and created ten ridings with populations under 75% of the provincial quota.  All ten of them remain too small and have been joined by one more.   The ideas of the White Paper are a proposed solution, though a very bad one in my opinion.  The biggest beneficiaries will be Kamloops and Prince George which will each effectively get one more MLA each at the expense of rural areas.

What is being proposed is that BC we create four regions of the province that have guaranteed levels of representation

  • The North with eight seats
  • Cariboo Thompson with five seats
  • Columbia-Kootenay with four seats
  • Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley with 68

                  Regional             
Region             Quota  +25%   -25%
North             32,091 40,144 24,068
Thompson-Cariboo  39,966 49,957 29,975
Columbia-Kootenay 37,200 46,500 27,900
Rest of BC        55,804 69,755 41,853
Normal Quota      51,765 64,706 38,824 

As you can see, the largest population allowed in Northern BC is 1,700 people smaller than the smallest population in most of BC.

Because the Okanagan is not connected to the rest of the province in this new model, it has to remain with seven seats until it rises enough in population to justify taking a seat from the lower mainland.  Within the Okanagan there is a further problem of Boundary Similkameen which already has a population too low and the new model makes it worse.

The riding of Boundary Similkameen will have to increase by  at least 3,700 people all of them who have to come from the around Penticton.  Realistically Boundary Similkameen will gain more like 8,000 people from Penticton.   Princeton, which is in the same valley as Hedley and Keremeos can not be added to the riding even though in most past incarnations the Similkameen Valley has not been split.  The new Boundary Similkameen would be focusing more on the southern areas of Penticton and people that commute to Pentiction than the much larger rural areas of the riding. 

The new model removes a lot of flexibility to find solutions because it has to be applied over a very small number of ridings in the regions.  Each region will have to live within their quota limits and that becomes a serious issue in the north where two ridings have much larger populations than the rest..

Since the +-25% has to be applied within the region, and I know of no case when a boundary commission has found a special circumstance to propose a riding with more than +25%; I see the 40,144 in the North as a hard limit to any riding.  To be safe commissions tend to stop at +23% meaning 39,500 is really the upper limit of the Prince George ridings.   Between the two current Prince George riding they will have to shed  close to 13,000 people.  Nechako Lakes will have to be dismantled - half will have to go into a new Prince George riding and half will have to go into Skeena and Stikine.   This proposed model will mean that northwest BC effectively loses one seat to Prince George.

In the North we would have something like this:

  • Peace River North 33,000 - loses Hudson's Hope and Taylor to Peace South
  • Peace River South 32,500 - gains the above
  • Prince George Valemount 35,000 - loses all the areas west of the Fraser to somewhere just south of downtown to PG-Vanderhoof
  • Prince George Makenzie 35,000 - it loses the areas in south western Prince George to PG-Vanderhoof
  • Prince George Vanderhoof 35,000 made of parts of of PG-Mackenzie, PG-Valemount and Nechako Lakes
  • North Coast Stkine 28,000 - it get the Nass, Stewart and Atlin - yes, it would be huge
  • Skeena- Hazelton 30,000 - gains the Hazeltons
  • Bulkley Valley 28,000 - is made up the western half of Nechacko lakes and the Bulkley Valley to Moricetown

Because of the new proposed model the current three north west ridings move 180 kilometers to the east and all become much larger in area.

In the Thompson-Cariboo region the two Kamloops ridings have a combined extra 27,000.  This new model means that the riding of Fraser-Nicola will have to be split up.  Hope to Merritt will be the rural areas of a third Kamloops riding.  Lytton, Lillooet, Ashcroft and Cache Creek areas will all become part of Cariboo Chicotin The boundary between Cariboo North and Cariboo Chiclotin will move further into Williams Lake with the addition of all of the North Thompson from Barriere to Blue River to one of the two Cariboo ridings. 

We would have the following:

  • Kamloops Northshore - 40,000 - this riding will be relatively small in area
  • Kamloops Centre Valleyview - 40,000 - another geographically small riding
  • Kamloops Nicola Hope - 40,000 of which more than half would be commuting distance to Kamloops
  • Cariboo North 30,000
  • Cariboo Gold Trail 30,000 - this riding will be a larger area than all seven Okanagan ridings combined

What was three rural and two quasi urban ridings becomes two rural, one quasi urban and two completely urban ones.

With this model Columbia-Kootenay would not have to change anything.  It is important to note that with the status quo you could achieve minimum of 38,824 by moving the Boundary country into the region and allow the Kootenaies to retain four seats.  They do not need this model to stay over -25%.

On the coast only one riding under the new model is too large, Surrey Cloverdale which is 3,815 people too large.  Under the status quo model six seats are too large, all of them in the southern suburbs of Vancouver.  Collectively Richmond-Surrey-Langley should be gaining at least one seat but not with the new model.

Since only one seat has a population that is too large it means that not a lot of changes would have to happen other than shuffling the boundaries around in Surrey to ensure Surrey Cloverdale and ideally Surrey Panorama have smaller populations.  This can all be done within the current municipal boundaries of the City of Surrey.  It worth noting the eight Surrey ridings have 487,380 people compared to 256,730 for the eight northern ones.  A northern voter is worth 1.9 Surrey voters.

In the City of Vancouver only minor shuffling need be done to raise the population of Vancouver West End by a little bit but even it is ok with the current populations.

On the island the only change that might be warranted is shifting some of the population on the southern end of the Comox Valley riding into Alberni Pacific Rim.

Using this model increases the chance that in BC we could have wrong winner election.  If you have party that can do well in the 17 protected ridings representing 13.8% of the population but 20% of the seats it becomes possible to win a majority government but lose the over all vote.

In BC you need 44 seats to have a working majority.  If you take 15 of the 17 protected seats you only need to win 29 more out of the other 68 seats.   This means that winning a majority with 36% of the vote to 41% for the main opposition becomes possible.  Wrong winner elections bring democracy and government into disrepute.  It puts the government in a bad spot because from day one they know they were not the most popular choice for government, they are acting against the wishes of the public.

There is some good reading about the problems of this new model at Paul Ramsey's blog.
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