Monday April 17, 2023 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated 4:07 pm]
Editorial commentary by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Proposed new BC provincial electoral boundaries were announced today, in a final report of the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission (BCEBC) dated April 3, 2023. This follows a preliminary new boundaries list issued in the fall of 2022 (for which public input was accepted up to November 22, 2022).
Approval by the BC Legislative Assembly would see the riding boundary changes take effect for the next BC provincial election, including the creation of six more electoral districts.
That would not only increase the size of the Legislative Assembly from 87 to 93 Members (MLAs) but — even though the goal is to essentially keep the number of voters in each riding somewhat the same — the new boundaries would change the voter complexion of various areas of the province.
The system of ‘representation by population’ is based on the idea that one person’s vote should carry the same weight as another person’s vote, regardless of where they live in the province. “In order for that to happen, the population of each riding must be roughly the same,” says the BCEBC in their 2023 Final Report.
However, boundary changes based entirely on population numerical size seems by design to turn a blind eye to sociocultural realities of various regions of the province. Resultant political impacts of the west shore boundary changes will produce generational change for various communities.
Attorney General emphasizes population growth:
“It’s an independent process, and as a political person I stay out of that,” said Attorney General Nikki Sharma yesterday and that she hopes the legislation “will be passed as soon as possible”.
In response to a question about the impacts on the west shore under the boundary changes, particularly the split split of Langford from Sooke, Sharma said: “Independent process. I think it’s really important for a democracy for politics to stay away from ridings and boundaries. I know the independent commission went around and spoke to people across this province, and they made their arguments about where the riding should be. And the report has their final recommendations.”
“I think it’s clear that politicians should stay out of that,” the Attorney General said in a quick interview with Island Social Trends.
“There’s a lot of decisions in there, a lot of different changes, and due to population growth they added lots of ridings.”
The commission state in their executive summary that they “propose boundary changes to reduce population disparities between neighbouring ridings, creating room for population growth that is anticipated before the next electoral boundaries commission review”. But realistically, to foresee population growth over the next 10 years is probably no better than a guess. They didn’t seem to catch the population growth that was poised to happen in the last 10 years.
If the new set of 93 electoral areas is approved in this spring session of the BC Legislative Assembly, that would give expectant MLA candidates just over a year to interact in their communities ahead of the next scheduled provincial election (presently set for October 19, 2024).
Premier David Eby has stated numerous times that he has no intention of calling an election ahead of the scheduled 2024 date.
Vancouver Island ridings:
As the population of Vancouver Island has grown steadily since the previous boundary delineations (in place for the 2017 and 2020 elections), there are now 15 ridings proposed for Vancouver Island, up by one from 14. Many of them are reshaped.
The BCEBC says that population growth in the Greater Victoria area is mostly in Langford, though other communities like Colwood and Sooke are seeing strident population growth as well.
Three west shore ridings:
Out here on the west shore of south Vancouver Island, three new boundary configurations (up from the current two, i.e. Langford-Juan de Fuca and Esquimalt-Metchosin) would change the landscape (population count):
- Langford-Highlands (49,110) – includes Langford and Highlands
- Juan de Fuca-Malahat (44,980) – includes Sooke, Juan de Fuca, Metchosin and Malahat
- Esquimalt-Colwood (58,356) – includes Esquimalt, Colwood, View Royal and Vic West
The new riding composition would create a significant shift for the political culture and the socioeconomic goals of residents, neighbourhoods and businesses in the various municipal areas within those provincial ridings.
Decoupling Langford from Sooke:
Langford’s fast-paced population and commercial growth has rapidly produced an urban-style riding in just over 10 years, with many of the nouveau-urban issues that go along with that (pieces missing in the overall plan, though often with the intention to catch up later). Langford’s rapid growth has produced a distinctively different urban lifestyle and economic base compared to the rural Sooke component of the Langford-Juan de Fuca riding in which for the 18 years that (now former premier) John Horgan rose to political influence.
The Langford-Sooke electoral base would be essentially demolished, but it’s fair to say it was never a natural pairing between the business-robust Langford that by Capital Regional District (CRD) design bore the weight of regional housing growth and the preservation-of-nature and more remotely located Sooke.
Improvements to BC Highway 14 — which is the one route in-and-out of Sooke with Langford as the landing shore en route to Saanich and Victoria — are just about complete. That may well be Horgan’s greatest legacy of economic and social impact for the west shore region, i.e. to have enabled the costly and complex improvements to Highway 14 and therey make possible a more reliable connector for Sooke. Nonetheless, to leave high-density urban Langford and get to growing but seaside urban/rural Sooke is still a drive that represents a cultural divide.
The proposed new electoral boundaries will quietly but powerfully decouple Sooke from Langford for the 2024 election, and the election after that, taking the impact of these changes well into the mid 2030s.
While many people commute between the two communities (loosely considered to both be part of the west shore), Sooke steadfastly holds onto its rural character while Langford has zoomed into the future with a big-city vision. Many residents of both areas still commute into the Victoria-Saanich core (and beyond to the peninsula) daily for employment.
Metchosin aligned with other rural areas:
The entirely rural Metchosin (population approximately 5,000) used to be in the previous Juan de Fuca riding (before that riding became Langford-Juan de Fuca for the last two elections). In the proposed boundary changes, Metchosin would now be back in the more rural side of things, with their voter based conjoined with that of Sooke, Juan de Fuca and Malahat.
That might necessitate a home-base relocation for Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean ahead of the next election, who presently lives in Metchosin but whose current riding also includes Colwood and Esquimalt (Colwood-Esquimalt is proposed as its own new riding). Now Vic West has been included in the proposed Colwood-Esquimalt footprint, which would shift Dean’s influence further toward the Victoria municipal area.
With Metchosin combined with Sooke, Juan de Fuca and Malahat a distinctive rural and seaside emphasis would emerge in policy demands and influence. In all that, Sooke would likely emerge as the ‘urban centre’ in a way that shifts all eyes west and seeing less of a reach by Sooke to be directly integrated with Greater Victoria. It’s almost as if a new metropolis has been birthed, with Sooke at the core and the buffering needs being expressed by Metchosin, Juan de Fuca (which includes East Sooke and est of Sooke out to Jordan River), and Malahat.
Looping in Malahat:
Until now, Malahat has identified itself culturally and economically more with Langford and the Cowichan Valley. The geographical terrain for whomever becomes MLA in that riding will be part of a new time-on-the-road reality; on a map Malahat might seem close to Sooke and Shawnigan as the crow flies, but on-the-road transportation would add time and logistical challenge to those who represent and participate in the region’s leadership. As such, however, looping in Malahat could see Sooke gain leadership with input to south Vancouver Island regional transportation. With Port Renfrew in the geographically large riding,
End of an era:
The fact that the current MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca (former Premier John Horgan) could hold the disparate Sooke and Langford together in one bundle of voting power is a testament to his political skill, and the change from what he created signals the end of an era.
Likely any future MLA candidate for that community-combo would not be ably bridge that gap for significant success. In that regard, the decoupling of Langford from Sooke will benefit any candidate in both ridings by way of streamlining and targeting their campaign issues.
The proposed new Juan de Fuca-Malahat riding will be essentially rural, encompassing a vast geographical area that includes Sooke, East Sooke, Metchosin, Otter Point west to Port Renfrew, and Malahat. Anyone who runs as an MLA candidate for that footprint will certainly have a much different messaging than anyone running in the robust proposed Langford-Highlands.
The populations of the two proposed ridings are pretty similar: Langford-Highlands riding would have a population of 49,114 while Juan de Fuca-Malahat would have 44,931. But similarities in the needs and desires of the populations in the two proposed areas are vastly different.
Strategically speaking, the separation of Sooke from Langford splits the long-developed Horgan-built NDP on-the-ground stronghold in two.
Highlands fits in oddly. It is lightly populated without any urban density, but has some land-industrial and water management factors at play that oddly probably align better with Langford’s robust growth issues.
Langford leads population growth:
Langford has been set on a course of urban growth including high-density neighbourhoods and a complex array of amenities, all of which requires a significant investment in both physical and social infrastructure.
Whereas Sooke has for 15 years trying to nudge its way into the Greater Victoria fold as a bustling town, it remains geographically removed (and still dependent on Highway 14 for in/out access) and is socio-culturally distinct if not unique.
The new boundary setup will, in a way, set Sooke up for leadership on the west side of the island, now that it wouldn’t be competing with Langford for the limelight.
The new Esquimalt-Colwood riding would again see Metchosin shaved off (presently the riding is Esquimalt-Metchosin), similarly bundling urban areas together.
Colwood is fast-growing while Esquimalt is at the infill stage, but the current MLA (Mitzi Dean) has been successfully at combining the two under her wing.
“It’s very positive that the Commission has added a seat to reflect the incredible population growth in the South Island. This will ensure our region is better represented in the legislature on key issues like healthcare, housing, and climate change,” said Mitzi Dean in a statement to Island Social Trends last fall.
Equimalt has a strong navy personnel component to the population base, with many military families also resident in Colwood.
Esquimalt-Colwood would have a population of 58,356.
School district footprint:
If there is a by-election for School District 62 in 2023 or early 2024 — if the NDP Langford-Juan de Fuca candidate Ravi Parmar (SD62 school board chair) wins the MLA seat this year, for now that by-election would involve voters in the same four areas of the SD62 Belmont Zone (Colwood, Highlands, Langford and Metchosin).
But after the 2024 election, both SD61 (Greater Victoria) and SD62 (Sooke/Westshore) will see shifts:
- Esquimalt-Colwood would have SD61 schools (View Royal and Vic West), and SD62 schools (Colwood)
- Langford and Highlands: remain with SD62 schools
- Juan de Fuca–Malahat: remain with SD62 schools
BCEBC says the principle of representation by population is intertwined with the “equally important principle of effective representation”.
Effective representation (ER) recognizes that elected representatives not only sit in the legislature and vote, they also play a vital role in helping their constituents deal with government bodies.
ER is based on the idea that everyone should have equivalent access to their elected representative, especially in the ombudsperson role, regardless of their riding’s geographic size, population density or infrastructure.
Since the population of BC is not static, BCEBC purports that it is “necessary to periodically review the number and boundaries of BC’s electoral districts to continue to ensure that BC residents have effective representation by population”.
The Commission is appointed after every second provincial general election to propose changes to the area, boundaries and names of electoral districts in the province.
The current Commission was appointed on October 21, 2021, with three members: Justice Nitya Iyer, Justice of the Supreme Court of BC (Chair); Linda Tynan, Local Government Advisor; and Anton Boegman, Chief Electoral Officer of BC.
Report posted online:
The BC Boundaries Report is posted online (dated April 3, 2023).
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends is a professional news portal at islandsocialtrends.ca . Fully online since mid-2020, Island Social Trends emerged from previous print publications in the west shore: MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013), and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020).
Since 2008, journalist and editor Mary P Brooke has taken a socioeconomic lens to reporting and analyzing the news of the west shore and south Vancouver Island region, including BC and national news impacts. [See Island Social Trends Politics Archive]. As of 2023 she reports with the BC Legislative Press Gallery.
Mary P Brooke has also focused on news of School District 62 at the board level since 2014 [see Island Social Trends Education archive]; SD62 is responsible to deliver public education in Langford, Colwood, Metchosin, Highlands, Sooke and Juan de Fuca.
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