By Trevor Busch
Taberites could be voting in a massive new Taber-Vulcan riding, following the announcement of drastic changes recommended in a preliminary report by the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission.
The interim report of the 2016-2017 Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission, entitled Proposed Electoral Division Areas, Boundaries and Names for Alberta, was released by the province last week. The report recommends splitting the present Cardston-Taber-Warner riding into two separate ridings, referred to as Cardston-Kainai and Taber-Vulcan.
“This is another area where the NDP have tried to needle us. Basically what they’ve done is tried to stack the deck again for the NDP in the next election,” said Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter. “I’m not very happy with it obviously, because it splits up my riding from west to east, which I think is a real mistake. I think we have a lot in common between the east and west part of Cardston-Taber-Warner.”
The commission’s interim report recommends consolidating seven electoral divisions into six in the eastern side of the province (south of Calgary and east of Highway 2), to account for the population in those areas having grown at a rate below that of the province as a whole.
The seven ridings are Battle River-Wainwright, Drumheller-Stettler, Strathmore-Brooks, Little Bow, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Cypress-Medicine Hat and Vermilion-Lloydminster.
The proposed Taber-Vulcan riding would reconfigure the present Little Bow riding to absorb the remaining area south of the former Cypress-Medicine Hat riding, extending from the Saskatchewan boundary west, along the U.S. border (see map above). The western boundary would be formed by Highway 4. This would add the area east of Highway 4, including Taber, Coutts, Milk River, Warner, the County of Vulcan and Vauxhall to the riding. It would include parts of the counties of Warner and Lethbridge, to just north of Picture Butte.
“That’s really where we were quite disappointed, where it really needled us, is just saying we’re going to make these huge ridings for the Wildrose and make them close to the same size as population ridings. It’s just really hard — if you want good representation, you need to take both (geography and population) into consideration. You can’t just cherry-pick based on population,” said Hunter.
As justification, the commission indicated the recommendation creates an electoral division that does not extend across the whole southern border of the province, an “oft-voiced” criticism from presenters about the federal electoral boundary in that area, while the new riding would consist of communities with similar cultures and economies, largely agricultural. The resulting population would be 41,683, or 11 per cent below the provincial average.
“It’s like a riding up in northern Alberta. It does not make sense,” said Hunter. “And I can tell you right now — this is one of the reasons why I’m going to be appealing this thing, is because Taber will get a terrible situation with that. There’s going to be real problems with this one.”
There was some indication that the commission might be willing to consider the creation of two blended ridings rather than the recommended Taber-Vulcan riding, depending on the level of feedback that is received in upcoming public consultations.
“This negative variance (population size) is unfortunate as this area has a lower growth rate than the provincial average,” it was stated in the report. “This variance could be adjusted if the electoral division was reconfigured along with that of Medicine Hat, to constitute two blended electoral divisions. This recommendation is one of the questions upon which the commission seeks public input.”
According to the commission, many of the original presenters during the first round of public consultations opposed the strict application of voter parity principles, suggesting that for rural Albertans to be represented effectively, their ridings should remain unchanged even if they are less densely populated than those in urban areas.
“The way the legislation reads is they take into consideration population, but they also take into consideration the size of the riding and the size of the area,” said Hunter. “The population was certainly taken into consideration, but what wasn’t taken into consideration was the size of the riding.”
The commission did acknowledge its recommendation to add a new riding to both Edmonton and Calgary meant that two electoral divisions would disappear from other areas of the province. The 43 electoral divisions in those areas would drop to 41.
The proposed riding of Cardston-Kainai would be created from portions of the current Cardston-Taber-Warner and Little Bow electoral divisions, excluding Waterton. Waterton would be moved into the riding of Livingstone-Macleod. The riding would surround the city of Lethbridge.
According to the commission, the recommendation would place similar communities within the same constituency and responds to various requests to move Waterton into Livingstone-Macleod, a constituency containing similar mountain communities. The resulting population would be 44,939, or four per cent below the provincial average. The name Cardston-Kainai is in reference to the large Kainai (Blood) First Nation reserve located within its boundaries.
Hunter, whose area of residence is currently closer geographically to the proposed Cardston-Kainai riding, indicated he will be appealing the recommendation but hasn’t yet decided if he would choose to run there in the 2019 election.
“I haven’t actually decided yet. I’m going to appeal this. Basically what they did is take Taber out, and Barnwell, Milk River, and Coutts, and then they added in Picture Butte, Coalhurst and Coaldale, which is about the same amount in terms of population. So I don’t know why they need to upset the apple cart. It wasn’t broken, it was working very well, and now we’re in a situation where there’s no real net gain or net loss. It just seemed like they were just throwing it together without really taking into consideration our recommendations.”
The current riding, Cardston-Taber-Warner, is large, but the proposed Taber-Vulcan riding would also represent a huge geographical slice of southern Alberta, albeit on a new northwest-southeast axis in a roughly hour-glass shape.
“In the current iteration of this riding, it’s three hours from one end to the other, roughly driving,” said Hunter. “When you’re in these types of ridings with smaller communities and it’s spread out, you’re going to get that. But what they’ve done is taken Taber out and added Coaldale and Coalhurst. This is no net positive and net loss. There’s no reason why they did it, other than we need to put the border somewhere and we don’t really care where it is, and so that’s what they did. It did not make sense at all.”
A series of public hearings will be held by the commission during the week of July 17, 2017. The second series of hearings is to allow the commission to receive feedback on the recommendations made in the interim report, in advance of finalizing its recommendations and tabling its final report no later than October 31, 2017.
“There is an appeals process, and October is when the final draft has to come out,” said Hunter.