Commentary – Expanding the boundaries

Richard Froese

The federal electoral riding of Peace River – Westlock may be expanded in the next federal election – slightly.
As part of the regular electoral boundaries review, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission of Alberta proposes to stretch the vast Peace River – Westlock riding north to the border of the Northwest Territories, according to the report tabled Feb. 2 in the House of Commons.
For the northern municipalities, the proposed change makes sense.
Currently, the riding stretches north to the area of Fort Vermilion and John D’or Prairie and excludes High Level and Mackenzie County.
Realistically, the High Level region is more closely connected to the communities to the east – not to the new proposed Grande Prairie riding.
The commission was tasked with proposing new boundaries that, as best as possible, maintain population equality while taking into consideration social and geographic factors, including respect for communities of interest or identity, and historical patterns of previous boundaries, states a news release.
Boundary reviews are conducted after every second national census to provide a population quota for each electoral division using the 2021 census figures.
If approved, the Peace River – Westlock riding would virtually stretch half the north-south length of the province – a highway drive several hundred kilometres one way.
The current riding has countless municipalities of various population and size, and Indigenous communities.
Simply stated, the task to visit and represent each one seems insurmountable.
However, the popularity of online visual meetings and conversations has made it easier to communicate with people distantly separated.
In the report, the population of Peace River – Westlock declined slightly.
To meet the Alberta population quota of 115,206, the Alberta commission proposes to include High Level and Mackenzie County to bring the population of the riding and the new proposed Grande Prairie closer into alignment.
The Peace River – Westlock population is listed at 114,091, which is .97 per cent below the quota, while the Grande Prairie riding has 112,902, which is 2 per cent below the quota.
Consider the names of the major communities plotted on each map of the proposed rejigged ridings.
Peace River – Westlock includes Peace River, Grimshaw, High Prairie, Valleyview, Swan Hills, Slave Lake, Whitecourt, Fox Creek, Fairview, Fort Vermilion, High Level and Rainbow Lake.
Looking at the map for the proposed Grande Prairie riding, the area includes Grande Prairie, which has more than half the population, Spirit River and Manning.
The work to draft a map of electoral division is not simple or easy, considering the layout of the land, especially in the north with small communities often scattered and remote, located far distances from neighbouring localities.
It will be interesting to see how municipal and Indigenous councils and individuals respond to the proposed changes.
In the past, councils have usually reviewed the proposed boundary changes and responded when they opposed the changes.
Submissions from councils and citizens will also be welcomed in the coming months.
Public hearings will also be held from Sept. 6 to Oct. 14 when the commission will listen to the views and consider further proposals to meet the needs of local communities.
A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 6 at Peace River at the Quality Hotel and Conference Centre Sawridge at 7 p.m.

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