Previous Public Input Received
The following input and submissions were gathered by the commission through public hearings held in 29 communities throughout B.C. from September to November 2014. The public also provided input through the online submission form, by email and by mail to be reviewed and considered as the commission develops a Preliminary Report for further public input.
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Posts

    Bill Johnstone, Victoria
    2014-11-16

    Our current provincial electoral districts in B.C. do what they’re supposed to — mostly. Representation by population was mostly accomplished through the previous commission’s recommendations for 85 electoral districts.

    However, B.C.’s population keeps increasing, almost all that growth in the south. B.C.’s average population per MLA keeps going up. That has also been true in Ontario and Quebec. Those provinces have managed growth differently. Ontario has held down the number of districts, while Quebec has increased them. Ontario’s average population per representative is now even higher than the federal government’s, while Quebec’s average remains comparable to B.C.’s.

    Quebec and all provinces but Ontario have been able to keep their average populations per representative reasonable in the same way, by increasing the number of representatives. That would be best for British Columbians too: we need more MLAs.

    B.C. has allowed untenable deviations among electoral districts, painful distortions from democratic representation. A line in the previous commission’s Amendments to the Preliminary Report says, "We recognize there is no bright line separating proposals that will withstand judicial scrutiny from those that will not.” On the contrary, many voters do sense such a bright line; it lies in the rationale for the existing 25 percent allowable deviation.

    Deviations can run between plus and minus 25 percent of the provincial average or quotient, so in fact they define a 50 percent range. Inside that range, no voter has more or less than half again as much representative “clout" as any other voter. So a voter in a thinly populated northern district can have one and a half times the representation of a voter in a densely populated southern district. Fair enough.

    Following the same rationale, when a deviation meets or exceeds 50 percent of the average, then a voter in the north actually gets twice the representation or even more. So the 50 percent deviation line is actually a very bright line; it lets a northern voter have twice as much representation as a southern voter. At and beyond that point, many believe, even to talk of representative democracy becomes farcical.

    B.C. has already crossed that line in two districts, Stikine (62 percent deviation) and North Coast (59 percent). Another five districts (Skeena, Cariboo-Chilcoten, Fraser Nicola, Nechako and Peace South) now have deviations over 40 percent.

    But if B.C. had 100 electoral districts, say, our provincial quotient would drop to 46,214 voters per MLA, about what it was twenty years ago. In Stikine the deviation would drop to 44.6 percent; in North Coast the deviation would be 48.4 percent.

    This Electoral Boundaries Commission should ask our Legislature to increase the number of electoral districts such that no district crosses this 50 percent deviation “bright line.”

    The government’s proposed work-around has tried to have it both ways, accommodating the north while keeping the same 85-seat Legislature. Logically this can only exacerbate the problem. It’s not sensible for B.C. to consider so many districts in “very special circumstances.” But that’s what has happened: oblivious to such technologies as Skype and teleconferencing, our northern MLAs continue to exaggerate the transportation and communication problems in remote districts.

    I’ll sum up with a reference to the legislatively basic 1991 Alberta Reference case. In that case, the Alberta Court of Appeal stated: “No argument for effective representation of one group legitimizes under-representation of another group.” But it seems that our Legislature — by not allowing any reduction in northern electoral districts and by constraining this commission to just two additional electoral districts — has done precisely that. In effect, it seems our Legislature has chosen to break federal law.

    Your previous commission's Amendments put it more politely: "Our statutory and constitutional mandate is grounded in the fundamental principle of representation by population. To begin our boundary-setting exercise with the presumption that each region of the province should be guaranteed its current level of representation, regardless of population changes is, in our respectful view, inconsistent with this mandate.

    For the sake of representative democracy, please give B.C. more electoral districts.



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