Today I spoke against Bill 2: Electoral Boundaries Commission Amendment Act. Below is the text of my speech.
I wanted to use my time here at second reading to address two general areas of concern that I have with this bill. The first concerns the tool used to ensure “effective representation.” I’ll speak to an alternate tool that’s been alluded to by other members earlier that could be considered. The second concerns the criteria used for identifying the 17 ridings for protection
I must say off the bat that after hearing some of the speeches from members opposite, I’m surprised that they have not bought into the hundred thousand jobs which were suspected to be occurring in the north. This legislation may not have actually been as needed as they’re implying.
First, to effective representation.
In the governments white paper on Electoral Boundary Reform they walked us through a fascinating history of the challenges and legal decisions that informed how we determine the boundaries of our electoral districts. These legal decisions highlighted the Canadian “right to vote” was fundamentally a right to “effective representation”. The first condition of this right of effective representation was that of “relative parity of voting power, meaning that a citizen’s right to vote should not be ‘unduly diluted’ compared to another’s”. However, relative voter parity was found to be impossible to achieve in practice, and in fact could be undesirable as factors such as “geography, community interests and minority representation” come into play. Deviations from this voter parity could therefore be justified in so far as they serve the goal of “effective representation”.
You will all have read the White Paper, and so will be familiar with these principles. I do not repeat them for the purpose of taking up time, but instead to highlight the essence of the government’s justification for protecting these ridings, and to build the case for this House to consider an alternative.
I do not think it is helpful for us in this House to pit rural B.C. against urban B.C. Nobody wins when we start to politicize this process.
In its White Paper, the government paints a picture of the Province where certain regions of the province, namely the Kootenay’s, Cariboo-Thompson, northern Vancouver Island, and northern British Columbia are representing smaller and smaller portion of BC’s overall population. These same regions are geographically diverse, creating localized communities of interest – interests which need effective representation.
My issue with this Bill is not on whether or not we need to ensure effective representation of certain regions of our Province – it seems clear to me that it is our responsibility to do so. My issue is with the proposed tool used to ensure effective representation. Freezing the number of ridings in 3 regions of the Province while at the same time freezing the overall number of ridings at 85 appears to me to be a rather blunt tool to ensure effective representation. In fact, I would argue that it fails to do so. It will inflame the issues of representation in the fastest growing parts of the Province, primarily in the Lower Mainland, making their votes worth relatively less. While I am not a lawyer, I question whether or not this legislation would actually survive a court challenge.
The communities that will be underrepresented are no less “localized communities of interest” than the ones this legislation seeks to protect in the North. The communities that will be underrepresented will include ethnic minority groups in communities throughout the Lower Mainland, who already feel that their voice isn’t well represented in the legislature. This brings me to an alternative tool that the House could consider when looking to protect everyone’s right to “effective representation” – voter dispersion.
Effective representation requires an MLA to be accessible to his or her constituents. Ridings, such as North Coast, where the population is dispersed amongst numerous small communities through the region are much more difficult to effectively represent than, say, Vancouver West End where population density is great and population dispersion is small.
Dispersion is different from density. Population dispersion is a measure of the degree of population scatter around a region whereas population density is a measure of the population per unit area.
Mathematically, population density is determined by dividing the total population in a riding by the total area of the riding. Population dispersion is calculated as the ratio of the distance scaled population to the unscaled population. In my view, it provides a very effective tool to measure representation.
This brings me to the second point I want to make about this bill. Paul Ramsey, a Victoria resident, is a statistician and author of the Clever Elephant blog. He has undertaken an extensive analysis of population density and dispersion in all 85 British Columbia ridings. In reviewing the White Paper and the work done by Paul Ramsey on his blog I am uncertain as to the criteria that the government is using to determine which ridings should be protected.
When I look at the list of ridings being protected I see an inconsistency between the arguments the government is advancing about why regions need to be protected and which areas have subsequently received it in this legislation.
First, the two major outliers through this analysis are Kamloops North-Thompson and Kamloops-South Thompson. They appear to share very little in common with the rest of the ridings that are to be protected. They do not significantly deviate from the average population per riding, nor are they among the largest ridings, by area or dispersion. The only identifiable characteristic is their proximity to other ridings which appear to be significantly deviated from the average. This raises the question of criteria – namely how the government selects the ridings that are to be protected.
For comparison, the ridings of North Island, West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, Powell River-Sunshine Coast and Alberni-Pacific Rim could arguably constitute a region in need of protection under the same arguments advanced by the government for the other regions. These ridings share a geographic region and contain numerous small communities, challenging geographic characteristics and in some parts are also seeing a shrinking population relative to the rest of the province. While the population deviation of plus or minus 25% from the provincial average is met for these ridings as well as the two Kamloops ridings, a far more compelling case could be made based on population dispersion for them to be protected.
I use these ridings merely to highlight the point that there is a lack of explanation around the criteria the government used to select these ridings. In order to protect the integrity of the Electoral Boundary Commission now and in the future, I feel it is in the government’s best interest to clarify why certain ridings are to be protected, while others will not.