The proposed creation of a new federal electoral district near Victoria will have major implications in Nanaimo.
Due to population increases counted in the 2011 federal census, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia is proposing the new riding of South Cowichan-Juan de Fuca.
If approved, the new riding would split Nanaimo-Cowichan, currently held by NDP MP Jean Crowder, and push the riding northward to encompass virtually all of Nanaimo, as well as part of Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan. It would lose Duncan, Cobble Hill, Mill Bay and Chemainus to the new riding.
The new northern boundary of Nanaimo-Cowichan would be the intersection of the Nanaimo Parkway and Island Highway North.
Proposed boundaries for Nanaimo-Alberni would include the Regional District of Alberni-Clayoquot, part of Courtenay, the Village of Cumberland, and a very small piece of Nanaimo that would include the neighbourhood around Brannen Lake west of the Nanaimo Parkway.
Existing boundaries divide the ridings in Nanaimo at East Wellington Road to Townsite Road, along Boundary Avenue to Northfield Road and east to Highland Boulevard, along Departure Bay Road to its eastern limit at Fairview Channel. The city is split between the two ridings with about 45,000 people in both.
The changes could create electoral challenges for both Crowder and Lunney.
Crowder, first elected in 2004, has enjoyed strong NDP support in south Nanaimo and Duncan to help get her elected, while Lunney, first elected in 2000, has relied on north Nanaimo for support.
While neither politician would speculate on political consequences of the proposed changes, both admitted the changes would be considerable.
“I’m still in the process of digesting it, but over the next couple of weeks I’m hoping to talk to constituents to get their thoughts on it,” said Crowder. “When you consider access, it might mean that people living in Lake Cowichan would have to drive to Nanaimo to get service, and I’m not sure if that’s in the best interests of the constituents.”
The proposed change, which would be implemented in the spring of 2013 if approved, would mean Nanaimo only has one federal representative, instead of the historical two.
The idea behind the proposal is to maintain 105,000 to 110,000 voters per riding. With high population growth in Cowichan’s south end and Victoria’s north end, the new riding is necessary to maintain that balance, according to the commission.
“High population growth was noted between the North Shore and Chilliwack, on Vancouver Island, in the Okanagan as well as in the Kamloops area,” said John Hall, chairman of the three-member commission. “These changes have prompted us to make substantial adjustments to the boundary lines in these regions.”
Overall, B.C. could gain six electoral districts, increasing representation in the House of Commons from 42 to 48 seats, something Lunney said is important.
The most recent census showed B.C.’s population has increased from 3.9 million in 2001 to 4.4 million in 2011.
The proposed changes were released June 6.
Lunney said he was aware of a potential change, but didn’t expect Nanaimo to be eliminated from his riding altogether.
“I expected to be pushed north, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be quite this much,” said Lunney. “We give up about 40,000 voters in Nanaimo and we’d be picking up about 20,000 in Courtenay-Cumberland. Let’s face it, I’ve been working for Nanaimo-Alberni for a dozen years and I’ve done a lot of work for Nanaimo over those years so I certainly have better name recognition and connections in Nanaimo than I would have in Courtenay.”
Both Lunney and Crowder said it’s too soon to determine the political fallout from the restructuring. Crowder said she could run in either Nanaimo-Cowichan or South Cowichan-Juan de Fuca next election, while Lunney said he’ll consider his options after further consultation.
Both politicians encourage constituents to attend a scheduled public hearing on the matter on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at the Coast Bastion Inn. Presenters must register by Aug. 30 by e-mail at email@example.com or by visiting www.federal-redistribution.ca.