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Peace country has say on proposed electoral boundaries

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Alberta’s electoral boundaries commission has finally heard from Peace country residents in person. After their initial meeting in Grande Prairie was cancelled due to poor weather in January, a public hearing was held Monday at the Sandman Hotel.

The commission’s interim report was issued in May, and it recommended creating a completely urban electoral division made up of most of the city of Grande Prairie. The rest would be moved into Grande Prairie – Smoky, along with much of the current GP – Wapiti riding.

Communities west of the city would then be moved into the new Central Peace – Notley riding, which is something most presenters agreed would be the wrong move. Beaverlodge Mayor Leona Hanson says she realizes that the commission has to make sure constituencies don’t have too small or too big populations, but doesn’t feel moving her town, Wembley and Hythe solves the problem in our region.

“[It] will not bring the numbers up enough in order to meet that magic number. Why would there be consideration for disadvantaging our residents in order to still not meet a number that’s being strived for?”

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It was pointed out that if the move was made, people living in the west part of the County of Grande Prairie would have to go through two other electoral ridings, Grande Prairie and Grande Prairie – Smoky, to get to their MLA’s office if it stayed in Fairview. Travel aside, Hanson adds that Beaverlodge has agreements with nearby municipalities that would be put at risk.

“We currently have zero partnerships, zero relationships [with those in the proposed Central Peace – Notley riding]. On a local basis, whether it’s the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital or our neighbours fighting to ensure we get that Beaverlodge hospital replaced, we’re working on partnerships all the time because we are in close proximity and it makes sense because this is the hub of the north.

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given suggested that the west boundary of the GP – Smoky riding be moved to the B.C. border, and communities further east like Fox Creek and Valleyview be added to Central Peace – Notley instead. When asked if the city would be okay with having more of its population moved into the mostly rural riding, Given admitted it wouldn’t be ideal, but worth it if it means the region will have multiple representatives in legislature.

“We want to ensure that northern and rural areas continue to maintain an adequate voice in the legislature, so we want to ensure that there are two constituencies in the Grande Prairie area, that the Central Peace continues to exist, that Peace River continues to exist, that Lesser Slave Lake continues to exist and West Yellowhead.”

Multiple presenters brought up the idea of having the entirety of the city of Grande Prairie make up a singular riding, while another be completely rural, but commission chair Justice Myra Bielby pointed out that at more than 63,000 residents, that would put it well over the legislated limit. The population of a proposed electoral division is not allowed to vary more than 25 per cent from the provincial average, although there are some exceptions for less populated areas.

West Yellowhead MLA Eric Rosendahl made the trip up from his home in Hinton to make other suggestions for changes to what’s been proposed. Like Hanson, he recognizes the commission is trying to ensure effective representation, but he argues including Whitecourt in his constituency would make it impossible for that to happen.

“It’s just too far out of the way. It’s out of the corridor, whether you’re looking at the Highway 16 corridor or the Highway 40 corridor…. There’s no way that, whoever the MLA is in the next election, that they’re going to be able to cover it effectively. Everyone deserves proper representation.”

He suggests the commission look at extending the riding’s boundaries north to Pipestone Creek to include Indigenous communities that already have ties to ones in West Yellowhead, and east to Entwhistle, while moving Morinville into St. Anne – Stony Plain.

The commission will present its final report by October 24, 2017. No more written submissions are being taken.

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