I am writing to comment on the proposed provincial electoral boundaries contained in your preliminary report of March 26, 2015. My comments are influenced by my experience as a former Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from 1996 to 2012 representing the eastern Fraser Valley, including the electoral district (riding) of Chilliwack-Hope from 2009-2012.
During much of my time as an MLA, the District of Hope, lower Fraser Canyon and Sunshine Valley were placed in a provincial electoral district (riding) that was centered east of the Cascade Mountain Range. The most frequent comment I received from people in those communities was that they didn't understand why they "weren't part of the Fraser Valley" when it came to their provincial riding.
It therefore made a lot of sense to me when the previous Boundaries Commission decided to include Hope, the lower Fraser Canyon and Sunshine Valley with Chilliwack, the District of Kent (a.k.a. Agassiz) and the Village of Harrison Hot Springs in the Chilliwack-Hope riding.
Hope, Boston Bar (as well as points in between) and Sunshine Valley are part of the Fraser Valley Regional District, as are the communities of Chilliwack, Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs. This means that the Mayor of Hope and Electoral Area Directors who are elected from the lower Fraser Canyon and Sunshine Valley are members of the Fraser Valley Regional board, alongside representatives from Chilliwack, Agassiz, and Harrison Hot Springs – all areas included in the Chilliwack-Hope riding. The office building and administrative functions for the Fraser Valley Regional District are located in Chilliwack.
More importantly, there are strong community and economic ties between these areas. Residents of North Bend, Boston Bar, Spuzzum, Yale, Dogwood Valley, Emory Creek, Choate, Sunshine Valley and Hope come to Chilliwack to do major shopping, attend medical appointments, use the Court system (the catchment area for both the Chilliwack Supreme Court and Provincial Court includes Hope and the lower Fraser Canyon), and obtain other services that a larger centre provides.
Fraser Canyon Hospital, located in Hope, is also part of the Fraser Health Authority. When patients in Hope, the lower Fraser Canyon or Sunshine Valley require additional medical services, the next stop is usually Chilliwack General Hospital.
Municipal police forces for Boston Bar, Sunshine Valley, Hope, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs and Chilliwack are part of the integrated Upper Fraser Valley Regional RCMP Detachment, which is headquartered in Chilliwack.
The Chilliwack Forest District, headquartered (not surprisingly) in Chilliwack, includes Hope and areas extending eastward to Manning Park and north to Boston Bar.
I can also add, as a former Park Ranger at Manning Park, that the geography of the region changes significantly when you travel along the Hope-Princeton highway (Hwy 3). Hope and the lower Fraser Canyon are in the coastal rainforest; as you move east and north over the Cascade and Coast Ranges into Princeton, the Nicola Valley, and Lytton, you are entering an entirely different ecosystem that is noticeably drier and has markedly different vegetation. The economic base is also different, with ranching, different types of forestry operations and a significant number of people employed in the mining industry.
Having watched a number of Commissions (both at the Federal and Provincial level) do their business over the years, I know there are difficult trade-offs to make. When I was a keen student of political science during my undergraduate studies in university, I was an ardent believer in the academic proposition that the most important consideration is that each electoral district should contain the same number of potential voters. However, my perspective changed during my time representing various communities as a MLA. I have come to the conclusion that "communities of interest" are more important than strict numerical targets. A slavish devotion to numerical targets can result in the electoral balkanization of communities and lead to unintended domino effects as lines are drawn on a two dimensional map, without regard to the economic or social watersheds that exist in the real world.
Of the various riding configurations I have represented and observed over the years, I believe the most sensible combination is to include Hope, the lower Fraser Canyon and Sunshine Valley in an electoral district on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range -- and within the Fraser Valley. Accordingly, I hope you will give considerable weight to protecting community interests when you make your ultimate decision.