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Burnaby North-Seymour riding a done deal?

Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart -
Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart
— image credit:

Burnaby's two New Democrat MPs were outraged at comments made in recent online media by a member of the Electoral Boundaries Commission of B.C. suggesting that a proposed new Burnaby North-Seymour riding is a done deal.

Stewart Ladyman, one of three commission members, is quoted in Huffington Post Canada as saying, “The North Burnaby-North Vancouver issue has been on the table for a number of commissions, and there is just no way this time around but to cross the river.”

The redistribution of federal ridings happens every 10 years to factor in the latest population numbers from the census. British Columbia will receive six additional seats bringing its total to 42. The "electoral quota" in B.C. is 104,763 residents per riding.

Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart said he was surprised to read Ladyman's "bald and bold statements," particularly as the public consultation process has yet to begin.

"It's almost like if you went to court and the judge pronounced you guilty without hearing any of the evidence," he said. "It's also disrespectful to the residents both of North Vancouver and Burnaby."

Stewart said what he's heard from many "on both sides of the inlet—although unfortunately, Mr. Ladyman called it a river—is there's just no real links between the communities."

On the partisan side, if the last election was fought under the proposed boundaries, Stewart said he would have lost by more than seven per cent, rather than winning by two per cent as he did.

"It really goes against the commission's mandate. They're supposed to try to keep these things balanced but this is clearly not."

“I think it would be appropriate for Ladyman to retract his comment and apologize,” said Burnaby-New Westminster MP Peter Julian in a press release. “Having seen the redistribution process up close before, I know that the value of community feedback is vitally important. The boundary commission’s recommendations must reflect the public interest.”

Stewart suggested the commission look at dividing population numbers in the ridings by starting at Burnaby and heading west instead of east. For instance, Powell River and the Sunshine Coast could be incorporated with North Vancouver Island, which has longtime connections due to ferry routes.

He stressed that transportation options are limited between North Burnaby and North Vancouver, making it difficult for some residents, particularly seniors and those with disabilities, from one side of the inlet to visit a consituency office on the other side of the bridge.

Meanwhile, MPs are provided extra funding to open additional offices if electoral districts exceed a certain number of square kilometres, which would be the case if a riding spanned Georgia Strait.

North Burnaby and North Vancouver, on the other hand, wouldn't qualify so it would have to make do with only one office, Stewart noted.

For his part, Ladyman said in an interview that his comments in the Huffington Post were quoted out of context.

"The question asked was, 'Do you see any way of not having a riding combining North Van and Burnaby.' And my answer was ... we have looked at a number of alternatives and I see no way but to have a riding that crosses the inlet," he said.

"So of course that's taken that we're not going to change it. But we're willing to let people come [to public hearings] and if somebody can come with a proposal that meets the criteria, then I think the commissioners are willing to change."

Ladyman said the challenge is the commission needs to add six seats to B.C. while working with an "ideal" population figure of 104,763 for each riding, plus or minus 25 per cent.

As of 2011, Burnaby-Douglas is 18 per cent over that ideal figure, North Vancouver is 21.5 per cent over and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast is 28 per cent over.

The commission determined that there's too many people on the North Shore for two ridings but not enough for three, Ladyman said.

"That has a whole rippling effect as you cross into Burnaby and it gets into Surrey. There are very few districts that have the same boundaries as in 2011 by our proposal."

As it is, the proposal sees a range of plus or minus 15 per cent from the ideal population number.

Ladyman said Stewart's suggestion of adding more of the mainland population to the proposed Vancouver Island North district isn't likely to work because the population numbers along the Sunshine Coast wouldn't be high enough to make a difference.

Despite the controversy, he said, "I hope it really starts a discussion about democracy."

He added, "It's our first hearing on Sept. 10. Hopefully we'll get some great ideas."

The commission's consultation process opens Monday, Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. in North Vancouver at the Holiday Inn, 700 Old Lillooet Road. The Burnaby forum takes place Thursday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Express Metrotown, 4405 Central Boulevard.

Those wanting to make submissions must inform the commission at bc-cb@rfed-rcf.ca or by mail (1095 West Pender Street, Suite 301, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6E 2M6) by Aug. 30.

To view the commission's proposed new electoral districts, visit www.federal-redistribution.ca or call 1-855-747-7236 to obtain a copy.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

twitter.com/WandaChow

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