Several thousand residents of Central Saanich may soon find themselves in a new provincial riding.
The preliminary report from the independent commission tasked with reviewing British Columbia’s electoral districts recommends that portions of the community now in the riding of Saanich North and the Islands move into the riding of Saanich South.
“We propose moving Brentwood Bay into this electoral district (Saanich South) to address the population disparity between it and the adjacent riding of Saanich North and the Islands,” it reads. “Moving the community of Brentwood Bay from this riding (Saanich North and the Islands) into Saanich South, as we propose, creates room for the anticipated population growth in this riding.”
Adam Olsen of the B.C. Greens, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, currently represents all of Central Saanich, while New Democrat Lana Popham currently represents Saanich South.
The estimated population of Saanich North and the Islands would drop from what is currently 62,565 to 57,346, while the population of Saanich South would rise from what is now 54,007 to 59,226, if the move were to go forward. Overall, the British Columbia Electoral Boundaries Commission recommends increasing the number of ridings to 93 from 87.
The electoral quotient —the average of people per riding with 93 ridings — would be 53,773 with the permissible range between 40,330 and 67,216. One of the six new ridings would be called Langford-Highlands to address the rapid population growth in Greater Victoria with effects on surrounding ridings.
Local reactions to the move vary. Olsen said “unnecessarily” splitting Central Saanich between two MLA on the basis of unrealized population projections that may or may not come to be undermines governance.
“These are population exercises, not good governance exercises necessarily,” said Olsen, a former Central Saanich councillor. “I have a relationship with Central Saanich council that if they need anything from the provincial government that is sticky and need to get unstuck, I’m there to help advocate for them.”
Olsen said he understands that electoral ridings cannot always enclose municipal boundaries in their entirety. But any review should not just consider population projections but also less-quantifiable governance issues.
Olsen said he has already spoken briefly with Popham about the potential move, adding that he and Popham work well together. “But it makes it more complex than what is necessary,” he said.
Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor said “superficially” it may be a concern that Central Saanich could end up speaking to two MLAs rather than one to have its voice heard.
“The reality is we already deal with different ministers, who are also MLAs,” he said. “But the bigger issue is making sure that whatever MLA, minister, you are dealing with on a particular topic is well-versed…(Olsen) has come with us to meetings with ministers. I personally have developed a relationship with Lana Popham, as an MLA from Saanich South, because she is right there. We are already an agricultural community anyways. One or two MLAs, I don’t think that is a significant concern for me.”
If Olsen and Windsor may have different interpretations of what the potential move might mean, they both share similar concerns about the process, with the report dropping in the middle of the municipal campaign. The current focus lies on Oct. 15, said Windsor. The new council — depending on its composition — may also need time to get up to speed in terms of the issue itself, he said.
The BC Electoral Boundaries Commission has invited feedback until Nov. 22. Central Saanich’s schedule shows council’s inaugural meeting on Nov. 7 with the first genuine meetings scheduled for Nov. 14 and Nov. 28. So council could weigh in if it chooses to do so, said Windsor.
Public hearings start Oct. 17 and the period for public submissions ends Nov. 22. The commission will hold hearings for MLAs after the public input period. The commission would then prepare a submission to the Legislative Assembly due April 3, 2023.
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