Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Committee hears about the challenges of rural representation

Committee hears about the challenges of rural representation

Rural constituents don’t want their ridings to get any larger. That’s the message The Electoral Boundaries Commission heard during a public hearing in Westlock.

The five-member panel made came to Westlock as the last of 22 public hearings where the commission heard form Albertans across the province.

Colin Piquette, MLA for Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater, presented at the hearing and said that if his riding gets any larger he will be faced with challenges representing all of his constituents. He said it is already difficult attending community events across his riding and said that it would take him two full terms to attend every Legion’s Remembrance Day service in his riding.

“I think that the more distance you put between representatives and the people they represent because of this lack of access, the more it attenuates people’s overall commitment to democracy itself,” Piquette said.

The commission will have to reduce or expand some constituencies to ensure they are more in line with the provincial population average. As of the 2016 census, the average population for Alberta’s constituencies is 46,698. The population for proposed constituencies should not vary more than 25 per cent from the average.

Right now Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater and Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock are below the average with 37,887 and 42,091 people respectively. St. Albert sits very close to the average with 46,346 constituents. Spruce Grove-St. Albert has grown significantly and is now well above the average at 62,786 people.

“The job of the commission is to make recommendations to the legislature as to how to move the constituency boundaries to ensure that each Albertan continues to be effectively represented in the legislature,” Justice Myra Bielby, chair of the commission said.

The constituencies have not been redrawn in eight years and since the last undertaking the population of the province has increased by 14 per cent, or 600,00 people.

“The challenge for us is to address this because the growth hasn’t moved equally into each of the constituencies,” Bielby said.

Overall, the population in rural centres has been shrinking, while urban centres have been growing.

The goal of the committee is to not just ensure the weight of each Albertan’s vote is balanced, but also to take into consideration geographic and social elements that naturally divide constituencies.

The commission will look for natural boundaries, such as highways and rivers, when they divide constituencies. They will try to connect rural areas with common industries and community centres together to make sure communities are not divided into separate constituencies.

Jan Hoffart, trustee from the Pembina Hills Public Schools presented at the hearing requesting the geographic size of rural constituencies not grow too large. A representative from the Wildrose Party subcommittee on electoral boundaries attended and brought up many points including a need for a clear urban and rural divide, the importance of rural representation and recommended that no provincial and federal electoral districts share the same name.

The commission will give recommendations to the legislature by May 31. More public hearings will follow at the end of July or early August.

The final recommendations will be presented on Oct. 31.

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