How electoral boundaries affect rural Alberta
(See also, Bonnyville/Cold Lake Riding Generally Satisfied with Boundaries)
Community leaders from across the Lakeland attended a hearing in St. Paul on Monday, January 23 to express their ideas on political boundary changes. While most speakers from the Lac La Biche/St. Paul/Two Hills riding were not specific on where to draw the new lines, they implied that the current constituency is too big and too diverse for one MLA to adequately represent. (See Electoral Boundary Commission for more information.)
The strongest point presenters made is that representation should not be based exclusively on population. County of St. Paul Reeve, Steve Upham, said it’s important for constituents to see their local MLA at community functions. In a large riding such as Lac La Biche/St. Paul/Two Hills, the MLA has hours of driving to get from one community to the next. Upham said, “There are times when the MLA needs to get out and see people to gain first hand knowledge rather than via word of mouth.”
Current MLA, David Hanson, added, “I try hard to attend all events. I try to hit all that I can.” Panel member Gwen Day asked, “Is there more expectation in a rural area to see your MLA face to face?” Hanson replied that people like to be able to drop in to the office, and that non-profits often request hands-on assistance with grants, funding and support.
Another point raised by Upham is that there are “intangible social and cultural aspects” to every community, and with multiple municipalities in a constituency it’s difficult for an MLA to understand all the needs and to meet the goals of each interest. Upham identified minority groups such as Franco-Albertans and First Nations in the St. Paul area, while Mayor of Lac La Biche County, Omer Moghrabi identified Lebanese and White Russian culture as strong in the northern part of the constituency.
Hanson added that the constituency incorporates numerous other political entities, including 10 municipal governments, 5 First Nations, 4 school boards, and 2 Metis settlements.
Former MLA and Alberta government minister Ray Danyluk said that the resource distribution in Lac La Biche/St. Paul/Two Hills presents another concern for fair and equitable representation. From north to south, he said, are lumber, fishing and trapping, heavy oil, cattle, light oil, recreation, grain, and hay. The regulatory needs in the north are far different from those in the south of the constituency.
One suggestion for boundary changes came from Moghrabi , who identified Lac La Biche’s trade area as more to the west than to the south. He commented, “We have the same school boards as Athabasca,” adding, “Use some highways, like 881, 55, and 63 as the boundaries. It makes more sense (for the constituency) to be east-west.”
The speakers expressed concern that an increase in urban constituencies would unbalance the legislature, minimizing the influence of rural interests. Justice Myra Bielby, chair for the commission, assured the audience that the commission is determined that the “strength of vote should not be diluted,” but that the “change is to ensure each constituency has effective representation.”