Representatives of the Pemberton area felt their comments were received positively by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for B.C. (FEBC) during the public hearing held Tuesday (Sept. 11) in Squamish.
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, Area C director Susie Gimse and Pemberton resident Maureen Douglas were the only individuals who made presentations to the three-member commission, each making a case to bring the Pemberton Valley back within a federal riding with other Sea to Sky corridor communities.
“I think we put forward a pretty compelling argument,” Sturdy said after the hearing Tuesday.
B.C. is due to receive six new seats in the House of Commons before the next federal election, requiring an adjustment of the riding boundaries to accommodate them.
Pemberton used to be in a constituency with Whistler and other communities to the south until the boundaries were last changed 10 years ago, when it was moved into the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding instead.
When the FEBC proposal for new electoral boundaries were released earlier this year, Pemberton-area lawmakers and residents alike were disappointed to not be returned to the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding, instead remaining in a Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon district that would expand north to also include 100 Mile House.
Speaking to The Question earlier this year, FEBC chair Justice John Hall said he was “very open” to the idea of returning the Pemberton Valley to its old riding, and Sturdy said that’s the feeling he got after speaking to the commission on Tuesday.
“Generally, I was pleased with the reception we got and I’m optimistic that they’ll see the light,” said the mayor.
According to the FEBC website, the commission set the proposed boundaries with a focus on equal population distribution among each riding, which works out to roughly 105,000 people per district. Ideally, riding populations are supposed to be within 25 per cent of the average, but a commission can stray from that benchmark to address “extraordinary circumstances.”
Based on population estimates in the FEBC proposal, moving the Spud Valley from its current riding to the Sea to Sky would keep both affected within the 25-per-cent guideline.
The Village of Pemberton set up an online petition for residents to sign, which had garnered close to 100 signatures at the time of Tuesday’s hearing.
Douglas said she felt it was important for the FEBC to hear the perspective of a non-elected official as well and that she’s glad she went to share her thoughts.
“There’s something about just a regular citizen showing up that has impact,” said Douglas, who spoke to the commission after Sturdy and Gimse on Tuesday. “We all talked about, and I emphasized at the end, how we are so geographically, economically, socially and environmentally linked within the corridor; that there are positive interdependencies — we share work-force needs, transportation needs and we share opportunities.”
Douglas said she also made the case that whoever Pemberton’s Member of Parliament is, their job would be much easier if the area was connected with its neighbouring communities to the south.
“Given the synergies that exist in the Sea to Sky… it would be more efficient for an MP to represent Pemberton in the Sea to Sky corridor riding (compared to) Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon,” said Douglas.
Douglas, too, felt that the FEBC was “sympathetic” to the concerns raised at Tuesday’s hearing and that she was optimistic that the commission may re-visit its proposal.
“Fingers crossed, and we’ll hope for the best now,” she said. “I left that meeting thinking, ‘Wow, I’m awfully glad I live in this country,’ where we have an opportunity to even say where we want our representation to come from, and we did feel listened to.”
Tuesday’s public hearing was the second in a series to be held across the province until late October. The FEBC is scheduled to finalize its report before the end of 2012, after which it is sent to Ottawa for Parliamentary comment.