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MP for Nelson weighs in on controversial electoral map

BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko is disappointed the federal Electoral Boundaries Commission’s report does not reflect the majority of submissions at last fall’s public hearings in BC’s rural ridings. - Bob Hall Photo
BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko is disappointed the federal Electoral Boundaries Commission’s report does not reflect the majority of submissions at last fall’s public hearings in BC’s rural ridings.
— image credit: Bob Hall Photo

BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko says he’s disappointed in the electoral boundary changes recently tabled by the commission charged with the task of redesign.

“I think this is a disaster,” he says. “This report is contrary to what they (the boundary commission) heard when they were here. The message was that we keep our communities together, that you don’t separate Nelson from Castlegar for example.”

Just back from Russia where he attended the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum with over 300 delegates from 28 countries, Atamanenko returned to add his voice of concern on a new electoral map which is widely criticized.

The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission reviews the boundaries of the federal ridings every 10 years making adjustments based on changes in population size and distribution. The proposal takes into account British Columbia's increase in population from 3,907,738 in 2001 to 4,400,057, as captured in the 2011 census. BC gained six new ridings this time — one on Vancouver Island and five in the Lower Mainland.

The Kootenay-Columbia riding would include Nelson, Kaslo, Salmo, Creston and RDCK areas A through G. Revelstoke and Golden will also be included in the riding that extends to the Alberta border.

Atamanenko, who has been elected as the MP for the Southern Interior riding three times since the 2006 election, says

“Adding Nelson and Kaslo to Kootenay-Columbia, it makes it even more difficult for the MP over there. That area is huge to start with,” he says.

A new riding called South Okanagan-West Kootenay will contain Castlegar, New Denver, Silverton, Slocan and Nakusp along with RDCK areas H, I, J and K.

“This is another huge population base, so my immediate question is how do we service people there,” he says. “How do you service another 30,000 people and maintain he quality of service here.”

The MP has a full-time office in Castlegar and a part-time office in Oliver, but his assistant only gets to visit that location once a month.

With the commission report handed over to the House of Commons January 28, the next step has federal MPs submitting their comments to the commission. A final report will be tabled in June.

Atamanenko says this issue is a priority for him as he works toward changing what’s proposed.

“I will appear before the committee and try and convince those in the House of Commons that this is not right for us. I will be doing all I can,” he says.

The changes could have political implications in the BC Interior. It chops the NDP-dominated riding of West Kootenay in two and attaches its remnants to two Conservative-held ridings, this is not lost on the MP.

“It’s certainly a challenge. You take Nelson and area and they’ve been really strong supporters of the NDP,” he says.

Nelson has been part of five different riding configurations since 1917. From 1917 to 1984 the riding was known as Kootenay West. Between 1988 and 1997 it was changed to Kootenay West-Revelstoke. In the 1997 election it was known as West Kootenay-Okanagan before being changed to Kootenay-Boundary-Okanagan for the 2000 election. Nelson has been part of the Southern Interior riding since 2004.

Only two MPs have been based in Nelson since 1917 — Progressive Levi William Humphrey (elected 1921) and NDP Lyle Kristiansen (elected 1980 and 1988).

 

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