Thank you to the Commission for the opportunity to present my thoughts on your proposed changes to B.C.’s electoral boundaries.
My name is Mike Pearce and I am a recently retired lawyer and UBC graduate in political science and law. I have spent forty-two years practicing law and twenty-three years in elevated political office including two Mayorships in Penticton and Quesnel, I lived in Quesnel for twenty-two years and Penticton for over twenty.
It is my understanding that in the legislation brought forward by the BC Legislature, Boundary was included in an area that was not specifically protected by legislation. Specifically, the ridings of Shuswap, Vernon, three in Kelowna, Penticton, and Boundary fall outside the protections in the legislation.
In total, the population of these seven ridings is above the provincial average. These ridings, with the exception of Boundary, range from PLUS 6.8% to PLUS 15% above the provincial average. Then there is Boundary, which in its current configuration, is over 25% below the average riding. Even so, the region as a whole has an above-average population.
Kelowna-Lake Country: 61,113
Kelowna West: 59,750
Average in region: 56,327
Average compared to BC: 106%
*Boundary’s population at its current level (excluding Princeton)
Therefore, with this region not protected, why would the Commission then seek to include population from the adjacent protected Cariboo-Thompson region?
The Commission has been up front in its reasons – that it seeks to move Princeton to shore up Boundary’s population. Commissioners have said at the hearings that they are seeking to resolve the issue of Boundary’s low population, that it is less than 75% of the average provincial riding.
While the Commission’s objective to increase Boundary’s population is straightforward, I disagree with its decision to move population from the Fraser-Nicola riding and, therefore, from the Cariboo-Thompson protected region. Is this region not protected?
While Fraser Nicola does have status in a protected region that apparently exempts it from the minus 25% standard, is it reasonable to move population from an underpopulated region to an overpopulated region? In the long haul, if Fraser-Nicola is to be sustained, it is hard to imagine that it could be sustained without Princeton.
Referring back to the table above, there are almost 400,000 people between the Shuswap riding and the US border, yet only Boundary stands out as a low-population riding.
One approach would be to simply re-balance the seven ridings by population. The numbers clearly enable seven appropriately sized ridings without any need to grab population from an adjacent region.
What are the consequences?
• Boundary would extend north into the Penticton area and divide Penticton;
• The Penticton riding would extend into West Kelowna and divide West Kelowna; and
• A portion of West Kelowna would be attached to a much larger portion of the City of Kelowna.
While it would make mathematical sense, it would not make community sense. This is an alternative that the Commission clearly can consider. It would easily resolve the issue of Boundary’s under-population, but at the expense of less than ideal maps in four ridings.
The Commission’s proposal is frankly worse. It proposes to move two communities – Princeton and Hope – to other ridings in the face of local opposition to resolve an issue in Boundary. The shortfall of people in Boundary amounts to just about 2,000 people. For the sake of 2,000 people, the Commission’s plan would cause a lot of disruption.
It is my view that the Commission should take the Princeton and Hope swaps off the table and view the Boundary issue strictly in the context of the ridings it is grouped with in the Shuswap-Okanagan.
Now, the Commission has a choice. Does it strive to reach the minus 25% threshold or does it recognize Boundary’s unique circumstances?
Moving Boundary into Penticton can resolve mathematical issues easily. The Commission clearly has the discretion to order this. I contend that by demonstrating its full consideration of this option, and rejecting it, the Commission can justify the current configuration of Boundary.
The Commission could propose adding Naramata and areas outside the City of Penticton into Boundary, which lay geographically adjacent to Highway 33. It looks good on a map but it makes no community sense.
The Commission could propose moving the boundary north into the City of Penticton, north of Skaha Lake, but this would make no community sense.
The Commission could justifiably move the border north to the road to Apex Mountain, but going beyond that would again, make no community sense.
By demonstrating its active consideration of all of these options, I believe the Commission can justify affirming Boundary’s current configuration as the trade-offs are entirely reasonable.
First of all, the region as a whole is not under-represented. Boundary’s low population is a result of maintaining community-supported boundaries to the north.
Just looking at Penticton, if you merge the population of Penticton and Boundary, they would be about 89% of the BC average – in safe territory. I would contend that Penticton residents would prefer the current boundary than to have its riding split with Boundary.
Thus, the Boundary quandary is somewhat imaginary. The minus 25% threshold essentially exists to ensure fairness between ridings. Would other regions of BC feel disadvantaged by Boundary’s low population? Why would they, when the six ridings to the north are above the average – and Boundary’s low population is partly a result of maintaining effective boundaries in that region?
It should also be noted that Boundary’s population would be in range using 2011 census figures, not the estimates used by the Commission. The point is that the closeness to the threshold is tight and a little fuzzy, given that estimates are being used. Add to that a uniquely high seasonal population and a new correctional centre opening in 2016 (378 cell units plus staffing), the urgency to add population to Boundary appears less compelling.
Finally, there is the comparison to the protected ridings. The Stikine riding has barely over 20,000 people. I do not object to this protection due to geography, but it does put the Boundary riding into context. Its low population is not extraordinary, in fact, it is more than at least ten other ridings in the Interior of BC.
In conclusion, Boundary’s current riding configuration enables more effective representation in the Okanagan and in Fraser-Nicola. It lies within a region with ample population to redistribute, without needing to take from an adjacent protected region. At the same time, it is close enough to the minus 25% threshold to warrant special consideration for maintaining its current configuration.
Thank you for your important work and for considering my submission,
Mike Pearce, Former Mayor of Penticton