Erosion of the Rural Voice in Alberta

Electoral Boundaries Commission final report came out last Thursday and it does not provide adequate provincial representation for a wide swath of Albertans. To be clear, it’s disappointing that such a large focus was placed solely on population when there are so many other factors outlined in the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act that should go into developing riding boundaries.
Rural Alberta has been overlooked and is grouped together in piecemeal ways that don’t reflect our communities. It appears that the Commission only focused on population and ignored many of the requirements that they should have taken into consideration when making the new boundaries for Alberta that lay within the mandate given to the commission.
14. In determining the area to be included in and in fixing the boundaries of the proposed electoral divisions, the Commission, subject to section 15, may take into consideration any factors it considers appropriate but shall take into consideration
  • a. the requirement for effective representation as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
  • b. sparsity and density of population,
  • c. common community interests and community organizations, including those of Indian reserves and
  • d. Métis settlements,
  • e. wherever possible, the existing community boundaries within the cities of Edmonton and Calgary,
  • f. wherever possible, the existing municipal boundaries,
  • g. the number of municipalities and other local authorities,
  • h. geographical features, including existing road systems, and
  • i. the desirability of understandable and clear boundaries.
On July 24, 2017, I stood before the Electoral Boundaries Commission and presented that our constituency of Bonnyville – Cold Lake had very unique struggles that apply mainly to northern Alberta. My presentation was broken into four main points below.
I have four points I’d like to address. These are covered more thoroughly in the report to the commission that I’ve just handed you, but I will attempt to highlight them quickly in my presentation today.
The first point is about the communities served in Bonnyville Cold Lake. The interim map shows that they are looking to add an additional 25 communities, which can be visibly seen on the map, along with two reserves. This will mean a total of 40 separate communities, two settlements, and five reserves within my constituency. Considering that each area is usually comprised of a mayor, council, chief, reeves, and community leaders and elders, this would mean almost tripling the number of communities within my riding. Increasing the size of this constituency will make it extremely hard for an elected representative such as myself to properly represent the people within the constituency.
The second point surrounds shadow population. In the report entitled Shadow Populations in Northern Alberta, which was prepared by the Northern Alberta Development Council, the author looks at the prevalence of shadow populations and highlights how current federal census data does not accurately reflect the true population of the region. According to the report the percentage of the population for Cold Lake region is approximately 29.5 per cent higher. While I recognize that the committee is making a decision on the federal data, I would not be doing my region a huge service by failing to state that the shadow population is a real problem. It is a substantial part of my community. I believe that this drastic increase will result in people having an MLA who is serving a significantly larger population than purported.
The third point is about the population being represented by the community. On page 36 of the interim report it states that the majority believes that the variance above 7 per cent of the population “can be supported as this is an area where future population growth is likely to fall well below the provincial average.” This is an issue that I would like to address. In the constituency of Bonnyville-Cold Lake there are several major projects that are currently in the process of being started. I would specifically like to mention a few of the companies for these announced projects: Cenovus, Husky energy, Imperial Oil, Osum, and CNRL. There are more details within the report. Additionally, in the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s population figures for Bonnyville-Cold Lake the population has increased about 10 percent from 2009 to 2016. The commission’s own statistics show that the region has not been declining and, in fact, has been increasing. This is echoed by the completed report by Stantec for a regional waterline. According to this report, dated April 7, 2017, the water consumption demands will rise due to our increasing populations.
The fourth surrounds common community interests. An artificial barrier is dividing St. Paul from the communities it services. The current boundaries will artificially divide the areas from St. Paul, where they would otherwise naturally share common community interests and organizations. It’s also my belief that this would lead to voter confusion as to which MLA the constituents should be contacting for provincial concerns. The indigenous communities and 13 other surrounding community centres west of highway 881, which are purported to be added to the Bonnyville-Cold Lake constituency, also are serviced by St. Paul’s hospital, commercial services, social services, and schools. As this is the largest population they are near, these communities have little to no influence on either Bonnyville or Cold Lake.
In summary, to the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission I’d like to conclude by stating as a whole that there are serious concerns with the near tripling of the communities served, failing to recognize shadow populations, the drastic increase in population variance, and removing indigenous and rural communities from the St. Paul hub, which currently serves that population.
As you can see we have many concerns that I outline and when asked about St. Paul being added to our constituency I objected as adding St. Paul to our constituency would in fact put us significantly higher than the 7 per cent over the average population. Now we have seen the Boundary Commission add St. Paul to our constituency and have the unfortunate honour of being the largest population variation over average population at 15 per cent in Alberta. This means that we have even less of a voice simply because the commission deemed us ok to be significantly over the average provincial population. It is ludicrous and I will be bringing this forward in the Legislature this fall when we sit to debate the new boundary for our constituency.
It is shameful that it appears that the NDP have used the Boundary Commission in a very partisan way. They know that rural constituencies are already at a disadvantage because of their size and complexity, and to grow our boundaries to the point that rural MLAs aren’t even able to meet with all their local constituents, business communities and municipal governments leads many to see this as a tragic abuse of power.
One comment that I have heard stated is that rural MLAs and their constituents will need to just get use to email, phone calls, texts and skype meetings. While some may be comfortable with this mode of communication others like our seniors and disabled constituents may not be. It is hard to communicate complex issues over distance and having face-to-face meeting with their MLA taken from rural Albertans it is completely unacceptable.
For those who are wondering what you can do I am encouraging you to write, email and call our premier and voice your concern that the boundaries that are being proposed erode rural Albertan’s ability to talk with their provincial government. The best way is to send your concern by email to Premier Notley at [email protected] or call her office at (780) 427-2251.
2016-17 Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission Final Report (without maps) – http://abebc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/EBC%20Final%20Report%202017%20NoMaps.pdf
2016-17 Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission Final Report (with maps) – http://abebc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/EBC%20Final%20Report%202017.pdf
2016-17 Cold Lake – St. Paul constituency map – http://abebc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/EBCFINAL_ED56_COLD_LAKE_STPAUL.pdf
July 24, 2017 Public Hearing presentation in Red Deer that I, Scott Cyr MLA for Bonnyville – Cold Lake MLA, stood before the Boundary Commission starting on page EB-504 – http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/committees/ebc17/legislature_29/session_3/20170724_1055_01_ebc17.pdf