Surrey will get a ninth MLA – if the recommendations of the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission are adopted by the provincial government.
From a population perspective, Surrey is currently under-represented, with two of the eight existing ridings having more than 25 per cent more people than the provincial average.
However, the work of the commission, which is trying to rectify the imbalance in population between rural and urban ridings, was done with one hand behind its back. The province ordered it not to increase the number of MLAs by more than two – to 87 – which it has done.
However, it was also ordered not to take any seats away from three areas of the province which are consistently declining in their share of provincial population.
Thus the number of MLAs in the north, the Cariboo and Thompson regions, and the Columbia and Kootenay regions stays the same.
With such guidelines, the commission’s work is seriously flawed. The province is on the brink of entrenching that there be permanent imbalances in the population of ridings – as has been done on the federal level. Thus Prince Edward Island, with 130,000 people, has four MPs and likely always will. Meanwhile, Surrey, a city of 500,000 people, has also had four MPs and will only be getting an additional representative after this October’s federal election.
The provincial redistribution will see south and east Surrey get additional representation, albeit with some unusual dividing up of true population. A portion of east Cloverdale and Clayton will be rolled into the new Surrey South riding, which will include all of South Surrey east of Highway 99 and north of 24 Avenue.
The Surrey-White Rock riding will be shrunk to include White Rock and the most concentrated population area of South Surrey, including Ocean Park and Crescent Beach.
Surrey-Cloverdale will not include any areas south of 56 Avenue, but will go north to Highway 1 and 96 Avenue to take in Tynehead and a portion of Fleetwood.
Most of the other ridings have few changes, although there will no longer be a Surrey-Tynehead riding. It is rearranged and becomes Surrey-Guildford. All the proposed new ridings will be between eight and 14 per cent above the provincial population average. The most populous will be Surrey-Cloverdale, with an estimated 61,060 people.
That is more than three times as many residents as the least-populated riding, Stikine, which has an estimated 20,616 residents. The riding is huge, though – it takes up much of the northwest quarter of the province.
There is no doubt that it is more challenging to serve as an MLA in an area that widespread, and there is some justification to allowing smaller populations in some of the largest rural ridings.
However, the process which the province has dictated goes against the principle of representation by population. It does discriminate against areas of the province with large and growing populations, such as Surrey.
Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.