The public was able to address the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission during a public hearing, Sept. 19. The hearing revealed more rural communities and ridings are concerned the changes will result in rural communities, such as Ponoka, losing their voice when put in a riding with Red Deer.
Every 10 years, after a census, electoral ridings are subject to change to accommodate population growth and shifts.
Between 2001 and 2011 Alberta’s population grew from 2,974,807 to 3,645,257. Alberta is gaining six more seats in the House of Commons, 28 to 34.
In Alberta the electoral quota for each riding is 107,213. The Wetaskiwin riding population, as of 2011, was 113,780.
The population of the proposed Red Deer-Wolf Creek riding is 107,985. The commission is able to deviate from this quota by 25 per cent.
If the proposed boundaries are made final, Ponoka will be taken out of the sprawling Wetaskiwin riding and put in the new, smaller riding of Red Deer-Wolf Creek.
“We’re going to get lost if we go there (Red Deer),” said Coun. Shayne Steffen, who attended the hearing in place of Mayor Larry Henkelman.
Steffen said with the new boundaries the needs and representation Ponoka could be affected when an MP has to represent both rural and urban communities to Ottawa.
“For several years the town has partnered with Ponoka County and the Town of Rimbey,” said Steffen. Steffen expressed concern these partnerships would also suffer.
The new boundaries propose that Rimbey be a part of the Yellowhead riding. “We’re also concerned with the proposed split of Ponoka County,” said Steffen.
Having the county represented by two MPs is not favoured, said Steffen.
Lacombe County Coun. Ken Wigmore also expressed that Lacombe doesn’t wish to be in a riding with Red Deer. “We believe that the City of Red Deer would be better as a riding unto itself.”
Wigmore presented the commission with several other courses of action. He believed it would be best if Lacombe County, Ponoka County and Wetaskiwin County formed their own riding.
The second option presented to the commission included more land area. “We would propose to be in the electoral riding of Lacombe County, Ponoka County, Clearwater County and the Town of Sylvan Lake.”
Wigmore said another acceptable option would be to become part of a riding that stretched from Hobbema to Carstairs, but circle around Red Deer, leaving it as its own riding. This was an option already considered by the commission.
Joe Anglin, MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, also believes rural communities such as Rimbey could lose their voice if they were placed in a riding as vast and diverse as Yellowhead.
“They don’t want to just know their MP, they want a connection,” said Anglin.
Anglin said ridings that ran more laterally across the province would suit Rimbey’s socio-economic needs better. He wants Rimbey to be in a central Alberta riding with similar communities.
Roy Louis attended the hearing and represented the four Hobbema nations, and brought treaty boundary documents for the commission to take into consideration.
Louis was concerned the Four Nations could be split and that Pigeon Lake could also be in a different riding. “It has been an issue for us. We’d like to remain intact as a federal riding.”
The new boundaries put Hobbema in the Red Deer-Wolf Creek riding with Ponoka, which isn’t wanted. Louis said they wanted to stay in the Wetaskiwin riding.
According to commission member Donna Wilson, representatives from the Wetaskiwin riding also want Hobbema to remain in their riding.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling of Red Deer also had concerns about the new boundaries. “We feel that our needs are unique.”
Flewwelling pointed out to council Red Deer’s previous MP’s had all lived in rural areas. However, he is pleased Red Deer is “harmonized” with Lacombe County.
“These rural-urban partnerships can work,” Flewwelling said. “Our preference is definitely for the urban focus.”
The last public hearing in Alberta took place Sept. 25 in Calgary. Now the commission will submit a report of the proposed electoral map to the House of Commons.
A committee will study the map in light of comments received from members of Parliament.
Their deliberation results and objections are sent back to the commission, who decide if they want to make any changes to the report. Then a final report is submitted to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada prepares the representation order, which allows the new electoral map to be implemented.
The new map will be used in the first general election, called at least seven months after the representation order becomes official.