What is fair and equitable representation for rural regions in the provincial legislature? Is fair and equitable representation important, valid, or essential in rural areas where the population is much more sparse and communities are smaller and farther apart? Those are the questions residents may ask as the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission reviews the provincial map to propose the new districts. New boundaries would take effect in the next provincial election that must be held on or before May 31, 2019.
The interim report proposes that the Lesser Slave Lake riding with the towns of High Prairie and Slave Lake be maintained with slightly altered boundaries on the north and east sides. That pleases residents after some may have feared that the riding could have been amalgamated or expanded.
When the commission and review were announced in January, Big Lakes County Reeve Ken Matthews predicted that the Lesser Slave Lake riding could be lost and expanded to reach the population average of 46,698. However, to the west, the current Dunvegan – Central Peace – Notley could drop the name Dunvegan and include communities west of Grande Prairie such as Wembley, Beaverlodge, and Hythe.
Historical and geographically, those towns have long-time connections to Grande Prairie, not with Falher and Fairview. It must be quite the job to dissect the province into a jigsaw puzzle and make sure everything fits with many factors including regional connections and interests.
If northern ridings were designed to meet the population average, the boundaries would be much larger and the MLAs would travel an additional hundreds of kilometers to reach all the points in the constituency.
“Our interim report strikes a balance between population numbers and public interest,” commission chair Justice Myra Bielby says in a news release dated May 25. But where is the public and community interest in the proposed configuration for Central Peace?
If the proposed boundaries are accepted, voters could elect a candidate based in one of those neighbouring communities outside Grande Prairie. So what kind of representation would Falher and the Smoky River region have with that?
Electing a candidate from west of the Swan City would give the greater Grande Prairie area twice the representation, and little for the eastern and northern communities. Falher has more connections and interest with High Prairie, not with the surrounding communities of Grande Prairie.
Vice versa, if voters choose a candidate from the Falher area, people in the Beaverlodge region would feel isolated. They would rather relate to an MLA in Grande Prairie than points north or in the far east of the electoral division. No doubt, the proposed map of Central Peace – Notley will get more opposition and response than the Lesser Slave Lake riding. Residents and local governments need to speak up and let their opposition and concerns be heard.
Oral presentations can be made at a public hearing in Grande Prairie on July 12. However, residents in both ridings are fortunate that the two constituencies have survived to the current status, considering that their populations are well below the average. Citizens are also invited to file written submissions on the recommendations in the interim report until July 8. For more information, visit the website at ABebc.ca.