PRINCE GEORGE – The BC NDP is opposing a bill that protects the existing number of northern and rural electoral districts and ensures British Columbians are not required to accept any more than the 85 seats currently in the B.C. Legislature.

Amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, 2014, debated this week in the Legislature, require that no reductions in electoral districts can occur in B.C.’s North, Cariboo-Thompson and Columbia-Kootenay regions.

“I have always stood with pride and enthusiasm to represent the people who entrusted me to serve them and all northern British Columbians,” said Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount and Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. “My riding is 31,000 square kilometers in size. This is larger than Belgium, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey. We need to preserve the voices of northern British Columbians, not diminish them.”

During second reading debate, NDP MLAs unanimously spoke against the proposed bill. All B.C. Liberal MLAs, rural and urban, spoke strongly in favour of the legislation.

“There’s a difference, a philosophical difference, between the people in rural B.C. and the people in the urban areas of the province here in the way they look at things,” said Mike Morris, MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie. “My constituents let me know on a routine basis that rural interests, particularly with respect to resource development, are not adequately understood and represented in the larger urban areas of the province. I think that needs to be taken into consideration when we talk about electoral boundaries and protecting the rural parts of the province that we have right now.”

Rural NDP MLAs Norm Macdonald, Katrine Conroy, Michelle Mungall, Doug Donaldson and Robin Austin were also uniform in their opposition to the bill, placing the interests of their urban colleagues ahead of the needs of their constituents.

If the bill passes and becomes law, the Electoral Boundaries Commission will continue to have the ability to recommend changes to the boundaries of all electoral districts, but it will be subject to a clear direction to preserve the existing number of electoral districts in northern and rural regions.

In debate, Skeena MLA Robin Austin did not voice his support for the Bill despite the fact Skeena is one of the ridings being protected by the proposed legislation.

Austin’s position is a marked departure from what he said in 2007. At that time, the Electoral Boundaries Commission proposed to add urban ridings at the expense of eliminating three ridings in B.C.’s interior. In the August 22, 2007 edition of the Terrace Standard he stated, “It’s hard enough for the North to make itself heard in Victoria and this will only make it more difficult.”

A few months later in an NDP News Release dated November 7, 2007, Austin continued to voice his concern, remarking ‘from the outset, New Democrats spoke out loudly and clearly for protecting rural voices in the legislature.”

That concern seems to have withered and disappeared as Austin proudly stood with his NDP colleagues last week in opposition to protecting rural BC.

Bond called on NDP MLAs in rural ridings to do the right thing for their constituents.

“It is vital to protect northern and rural representation and I’m disappointed rural BC NDP MLAs are so vocal in their opposition of this bill. They should be standing with us in making it clear that protecting ridings that allow appropriate access to MLAs by residents of small, rural and remote communities is essential,” Bond added.