By Nikki Jamieson
Redrawing the local provincial electoral boundaries could have Little Bow or Cardston-Taber-Warner grow even bigger.
During their regular Jan. 10 meeting, the Municipal District of Taber council received a letter from the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission, informing them of the ongoing review of the boundaries of the province’s 87 electoral districts.
“This affects two of our boundaries,” said Derrick Krizsan, CAO for the M.D. “We can go to Calgary, Medicine Hat, Brooks, all of them, and still touch the edge of our boundaries everywhere.”
There are about 4.269 million people living in Alberta, as of Oct. 1, 2016. In Calgary, there are 1.235 million, and in Edmonton there are about 900,000. These two cities make up 50 per cent of Alberta’s population, and contain 25 (Calgary) and 19 (Edmonton) of Alberta’s electoral divisions.
Out of the remaining 43 districts, just over 30 of them can be considered rural districts, and have greater area to cover.
For the two districts that the M.D. of Taber lies in, the Cardston-Taber-Warner district — which spans the western half of the Alberta-American border — from the Hamlet of Grassy Lake in the northeast corner to Waterton Park in the southwest corner of the division, one would have to travel about two and a half hours to get there, according to Google Maps. For the Little Bow district — which lies directly north of Cardston-Taber-Warner district — from Mazeppa in the northwest corner to Wilson in the south corner of the division it is a two hour journey, while from Mazeppa to Hays in the southeast corner, the journey is over two hours.
As both divisions do not have large populations — Cardston-Taber-Warner has a population of about 43,000 while Little Bow has a population of about 40,000, according to a 2015 census — the fear is that there is going to be problems finding people to represent the two areas, if the area within the boundaries increases.
Compounding the size problem is that Little Bow has the tenth-lowest population, and Cardston-Taber-Warner has the 21st-lowest population, out of the 87 electoral districts.
By contrast, the Calgary – Southeast district has the largest population of all electoral districts, serving over 79,000 people. However, the MLA for Calgary – Southeast takes care of a population that lives closer together — which allows them to reach more people easier — while MLAs in more rural ridings like Cardston-Taber-Warner and Little Bow often have to travel great distances to reach members of a population that is spread further apart.
“Our electoral boundary, if it gets any larger, who the hell would want the job?” said Dwight Tolton, M.D. councillor. “This is part of the population that does not equal the statistics… 20 minutes across the city to check your boundaries, compared to four hours in ours, is different.”
According to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, a commission is created to review boundaries after every second election, or if, for some reason, a second election is not held, one is created no less than eight years after the last commission was held, exceeding no more then 10 years. With the early election called in 2015, the commission is being held earlier than usual, so that boundaries, if needed, can be redrawn for the next provincial election in 2019.
The purpose of the commission is to review the current boundaries and subsequently adjust them in case of factors such as population growth. Since the last commission in 2010, the province’s population has grown by about 20 per cent, but that population has not been spread evenly.
For example, the Town of Taber’s population is 8,380, according to the 2015 municipal census, up from 7,935 in 2011, or a growth rate of 5.6 per cent. By comparison, in 2015 Calgary had a population of 1,230,915, while in 2011, its population stood at 1.097 million, for an increase of 12 per cent.
Under the current Act, district populations are allowed to vary up to 25 per cent of the average population. Based on population numbers from the 2016 census, the average riding would have 48,883 people, which would allow for division populations to go up to 61,104 people or as low as 39,106 people. Although Cardston-Taber-Warner and Little Bow currently fall within these limits, with the greater population change within urban centres such as Calgary and Edmonton, the boundaries of the two local divisions could potentially expand to accommodate an additional division in more urban areas. There is also a concern that a portion of a major urban centre may expand to include a rural area, and nullify the rural vote.
“They might even change the boundaries of a city, that won’t reflect the demographics, so they’re going to change it all,” said Tolton. “But, put a chunk of downtown in an outlying area or something like that, it changes, screws the election.”
Hearings on the boundaries will take place throughout January and at the end of February, with the closest two having taken place in Lethbridge on Jan. 25 and in Medicine Hat on Jan. 26. Meetings have also been scheduled in Edmonton, Calgary, Fort McMurray, Peace River, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, St. Paul, Wainwright, Drumheller, Olds, Edson, Slave Lake and Westlock.
Written submissions can also be submitted to the commission.
Council passed a motion to submit a written submission explaining their concerns on the size of their boundaries to the commission.
Written submissions will be accepted until Feb. 8, by e-mail or regular mail, and a final report will be presented to the Legislative Assembly by Oct. 31, 2017. For more information on the commission, visit http://abebc.ca.