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Updated: Commission proposes adding Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo to Kootenay—Columbia riding

A map of the proposed new Kootenay-Columbia riding. - Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission
A map of the proposed new Kootenay-Columbia riding.
— image credit: Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission

Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo could join the Kootenay—Columbia riding, at the expense of Nakusp, if the recommendations made by the BC Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission pass the House of Commons.

The commission tabled its report with the House of Commons on Monday, Jan. 28. The report modifies the boundary of the Kootenay—Columbia riding to include the Nelson, Salmo, Kaslo and the surrounding area. It also lops off Nakusp from the riding and joins it with the new riding of South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

The proposal is sure to be controversial in the West Kootenay, where local politicians have argued against the move that would split Nelson from its neighbouring cities of Castlegar and Trail. At hearing in the fall, residents in the West Kootenay argued strongly against the changes, however the commission has left Nelson in Kootenay—Columbia in its final report.

The new boundaries will be studied this spring by a House of Commons committee that will accept MPs’ written objections, which will then be sent back to the commission for consideration. The final realignment will be submitted to Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer in September.

Kootenay—Columbia MP David Wilks said he supported the changes, though he expected his BC Southern Interior counterpart Alex Atamanenko to oppose them.

"I expected most of it to happen," he said. "I'm not opposed to any of it. The commission had a tough job to do. They had to try and get every riding up, and that's what they had to do."

He did note that expanding the riding would create additional challenges due to the fact he would have to represent more communities (should he win re-election).

"Having said that, I've made a promise all along that if I am re-elected in 2015 – and I do plan to run – that I would have an office in Nelson as well as Cranbrook, and that would assist the riding immensely," he said.

David Raven, the Mayor of Revelstoke, said the changes would likely mean the community sees less of their MP.

"Right now he's been very accommodating and he's spent more time in Revelstoke than most of the MPs in the past little while," said Raven. "We've appreciated to have that contact and it would be a shame to lose that."

The new Kootenay—Columbia riding would have a population of 107,589 people, 2.7 per cent above British Columbia's electoral district quota.

According to the commission's report, they looked at keeping the riding as is, but it would have had a population 16 per cent below the quota without the changes.

"Submissions encouraged the Commission to keep Nelson, Castlegar and Trail in one electoral district," the report states. "However, such a combination would have resulted in an electoral district with numbers well above the electoral quota."

It goes on to say they were encouraged to keep Nakusp and area, New Denver and the Slocan Valley in the same riding.

The result basically chops the existing BC Southern Interior Riding in two – sticking Nelson, Salmo and Kaslo with Kootenay—Columbia; and creating the new riding of South Okanagan—West Kootenay, which includes Nakusp, Trail, Castlegar, Fruitvale, Grand Forks, Penticton and Osoyoos.

The B.C. Southern Interior riding has traditionally been an NDP stronghold, while Kootenay-Columbia and the south Okanagan are traditionally Conservative, meaning the proposed changes could have significant political implications. They add almost 20,000 people from heavily-NDP areas to Kootenay—Columbia, which could have an impact on future elections in a riding that the Conservative Party (and the Reform Party before it) has dominated for 20 years.

John Chisamore, the president of the Kootenay—Columbia NDP riding association said the changes should be helpful to his party.

"Is it going to be enough to get us up close to the Conservative numbers?" he said. "I know that when we did look at it, it wasn't going to be enough but it would give us a better chance."

Atamanenko is in Russia on a trade mission and was unavailable for comment. Under the new alignment, however, the NDP politician would lose Nelson, a party stronghold, to the Kootenay—Columbia riding.

That would hurt his chances for re-election, said political observer Wolf Depner.

Atamanenko, “is going to be in a much tougher spot now. If Nelson falls out of his riding, that’s a good chunk of his vote there,” said Depner, a former journalist who’s now a doctoral candidate in political science at UBC Okanagan.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission reviews the boundaries of the federal ridings every 10 years. B.C. gained six new ridings this time – one on Vancouver Island and five in the Lower Mainland.

The commission is composed of Justice John Hall, Dr. Peter Meekison, the Chancellor of Royal Roads University; and Stewart Ladyman, a former school administrator.

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