Proposed federal riding boundary changes in Delta would erode effective local representation in Parliament.
That was the unanimous opinion of everyone who spoke at a public hearing held by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia in Tsawwassen on June 9.
More than 70 people came out to the Coast Tsawwassen Inn last Thursday night to express their concerns about proposed changes that would see the city split between three ridings, with much of the community east of Highway 99 and north of the South Fraser Perimeter Road as well as large parts of North Delta cleaved off and made part of the ridings of Richmond East and Surrey West, while parts of Newton and Panorama Ridge in Surrey would be added to the Delta riding.
Sixteen people spoke at the two-hour hearing — including Delta Mayor George Harvie and Coun. Dylan Kruger, MP Carla Qualtrough, representatives for Delta South MLA Ian Paton and the Delta Chamber of Commerce, and former Delta South MLA and city councillor Vicki Huntington — all of them sending the commission the same message: leave Delta alone.
“With the proposed amendments, North Delta — which is home to more than half of Delta’s population — would be split between Richmond East and Surrey West. Our constituents in North Delta would become minority voices represented by neighbouring municipalities which have their own very different issues and very different priorities. Effective political representation would be lost,” Harvie said, voicing a concern that would be echoed by all the speakers to follow.
“At the same time, our residents from South Delta would be joined by some 50,000 residents from west Surrey, an area with very different demographics, issues and priorities. Delta is its own community. Without a federal member of the House of Commons representing and speaking for the community as a whole, we lose the ability to ensure that Delta’s specific issues are recognized and addressed and given the necessary attention and commitment.”
The redrawing of federal electoral boundaries happens by law every 10 years based on the latest census data. The commission’s main aim in its work is to divide the province into electoral districts that are as close to the electoral quota (population divided by number of allocated seats) as reasonably possible, while taking into consideration “communities of interest or identity, as well as historic and geographic factors,” according to a press release.
The commission’s full proposal can be found at redistribution2022.ca.
Data from the 2021 census shows B.C.’s population increased from 4,400,057 in 2011 to 5,000,879, giving B.C. an electoral quota of 116,300. The increase also means the commission must add one riding in the province, increasing B.C.’s seats in Parliament to 43. Under the proposed changes, the new electoral district — dubbed Vernon-Lake Country — would be in the Southern Interior between Vernon and Kelowna.
The current riding of Delta has a combined population of 110,711, according to the 2021 census — 108,455 for Delta and 2,256 for the Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN).
The updated boundaries would give the Delta riding a population of 117,020, Richmond East 116,764, and Surrey West 115,780.
In her remarks at the start of the hearing, commission chair Justice Mary Saunders said uneven growth, particularly in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, means many current ridings are either well above or well below the new quota.
“It’s rather conspicuous that, if you look at the west side of the Lower Mainland — and I would include in that Richmond and Delta and the west side of Vancouver — there’s growth, but it hasn’t been growth at the same pace as a lot of other parts of this general region,” Saunders said. “So the question becomes, how do you sort that out?”
Saunders said it’s really a question of voter fairness.
“If you have one riding that has a lot more people in it, it means effectively that their votes don’t have as much clout as the votes in another riding that has a lot fewer people. (…) So there is a strong push to try and make people have the same amount of clout in their votes.”
Saunders said Richmond ridings were under quota the last time the boundaries were redrawn, but it was anticipated that population growth would fill in that gap. That didn’t happen, at least not as much as projected.
Add to that “explosive” growth in Surrey, parts of Langley, the North Shore and other areas, and boundaries across the region must be shifted in order to smooth out “bulges” in the population.
“Last time around, Delta by itself with the [TFN] comprised a riding. This time, if we were to do that, it would leave some ridings very nearby quite under population, which on that principle [of voter fairness] was, in our view, at that stage to an undue level,” Saunders said. “What were we to do with all the people that also are entitled to a fair amount of clout in their vote as we moved along?”
“When we change an area because there’s a bulge somewhere, the bulge doesn’t get fixed just in the riding next door. It gets moved along until it kind of gets smoothed out. What’s happened here is a bit of smoothing out what’s happened in the Fraser Valley and in the Tri-Cities area and so on. That population needed to be smoothed out somewhere.”
Saunders said the re-drawn boundaries would reduce variance across B.C. from around 29 per cent above or below the quota to about 15 per cent on either side.
Many speakers at Thursday’s hearing argued the riding’s current population is within the accepted variance from the electoral quota and pointed out that the number of large projects approved and/or under construction in Delta and especially on TFN land would easily put the current riding’s population at or above the electoral quota by the time of the next federal election in 2025.
Over and above that, speakers urged the commission to look past the numbers and recognize that Delta is a community with a unique geography and mix of urban, agricultural, industrial and ecologically sensitive areas that inform a myriad of specific priorities and concerns that could only be effectively served by a single MP.
In her remarks to the commission, Qualtrough said the proposed changes would “unnecessarily fragment our community and threaten our community cohesion.”
“Since 2015, Delta has been represented by one member of Parliament. There’s been one point of contact for federal services, one MP working with local and provincial governments, business leaders, community groups and the Tsawwassen First Nation. Citizens know their MP, and that MP doesn’t have to divide time and attention between different communities; Delta is the only priority. And it’s worked for our community and our citizens,” she said.
“A Delta focus means outreach and advocacy work is tailored to our community. This work may be at odds or even in competition with surrounding communities such as Richmond and Surrey.”
Qualtrough used the Canada Summer Jobs Program to highlight the potential conflicting interests that the three MPs serving Delta residents would have to navigate.
“For this annual jobs creation program for young people, MPs determine local priorities and are involved in job distribution. Under the proposed redistribution, the MP for Delta would have to establish priorities that work for both Delta and Surrey, and the priorities in North Delta would be determined in the mix with those of Surrey and Richmond. The MPs would then have to work with businesses and non-profits, youth organizations and young people across two cities to establish these jobs and fill these jobs. And this would not benefit Delta.”
She also raised the possibility that constituents might not have an MP office in their community, which would disproportionately impact vulnerable populations for whom crossing the Fraser River, especially by public transit, may be too great a barrier to accessing government services.
Qualtrough also raised the fact that all three MPs would have to attend local events in their respective communities, leading to the possibility that there could be a time when none attend, for example, Canada Day celebrations or Remembrance Day ceremonies in Delta, something she said has happened in the past when the city was split between ridings.
Thursday’s hearing was one of 27 the commission is holding in June and September to gather comments and feedback on the proposed boundaries and related changes to some electoral district names.
Other nearby hearings will be held at the Richmond Oval on Sept. 12, the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel in Surrey on Sept. 13 and at the Inn at the Quay in New Westminster on Sept. 14. There will also be a virtual hearing online on Sept. 28.
Residents can also submit their comments and suggestions by mail (Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for British Columbia, 1055 West Hastings Street, Suite 300, Vancouver, B.C., V6E 2E9), email (email@example.com) by using the interactive mapping tool at redistribution2022.ca.
The commission’s report must be finalized by December of this year.