Saturday, June 30, 2012

B.C. federal riding boundary proposal analysis part 1 (Vancouver Island)

Map of the current ridings on Vancouver Island
Another province has released its proposals for the federal riding redistribution. While I as expecting Nova Scotia to be up next, the British Columbia boundary commission surprised me by releasing their proposal on Friday.

British Columbia has been allotted 42 seats, which means a gain of six seats from the 36 seats they have currently. That means that each riding will have approximately 105,000 people. That's too many ridings to break down into one blog post, so I'll break the province down into regions. First up is Vancouver Island.

Vancouver Island has seen a lot of growth over the last 10 years, and is set to gain one more riding. Presently it has six ridings, but will be getting a seventh. The population of the six ridings sit at about 735,000, which means that 7 105,000 people ridings will fit perfectly into the area. However, for some reason the commission expanded this area to include the Powell River area on the mainland, which seems bizarre. The riding of Vancouver Island North already includes part of the mainland, and it is proposed to gain Powell River.

Much of the growth in Vancouver Island has come in the Victoria suburbs, which is where the commission proposed the new, seventh riding. They are calling it “South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca”. This creation has set a domino affect into each of the other ridings, all of which will be shifting over a bit to make room.

The commission's proposed boundaries

Here are the proposed changes:

Vancouver Island North
This riding consists of the northern 2/5ths of Vancouver Island, plus a large, sparsely populated area on the mainland. With 118,000 people, this riding is too over populated, so the commission opted to remove the Courtenay area from the riding (separating it from its neighbour of Comox). This took too much people out of the riding, so the commission added the Powell River area on the mainland to bring the riding up to a reasonable size.

Vancouver Island North is a very marginal riding, having swung back and forth from the Conservatives and the NDP recently. The Tories won it by just 3% of the vote in 2011. The proposed riding boundary looks to benefit the Tories slightly. Courtenay is an NDP-friendly city, and removing it from the riding will surely benefit the Conservatives. The addition of Powell River does not help either party, as the area is politically polarized between the north half of the city (and the surrounding areas) that supports the NDP while the southern half of the city supports the Conservatives.

Now that a lot more of the riding would be on the mainland, calling it just “Vancouver Island North” would be a misnomer, and I am not sure why the commission decided to keep the name as is. Calling it “Vancouver Island North—Powell River” would make more sense.

Nanaimo—Alberni is the most Conservative riding on the Island, as it is home to Nanaimo's wealthy west end. However, with its current borders, the riding is still winnable for the NDP which lost the seat by 8% in 2011. The proposed riding boundaries will give the NDP an even better chance of winning the riding. The district gains the NDP friendly city of Courtenay from Vancouver Island North. However, it loses some NDP areas in Nanaimo, furthering the polarized divide in that city.

Currently, Nanaimo—Alberni is way oversized at 127,000. The proposed changes would shrink the size to 110,000. Again, the commission decided not to alter the name of the riding. However, the addition of Courtenay into the riding means it should be added to the riding's name. The city is not very close to Nanaimo, and is not in the Alberni-Clayoquot riding. Thus, I would recommend the riding name be “Nanaimo—Alberni—Courtenay”.

At 131,000, Nanaimo—Cowichan is Vancouver Island's second most populous riding. Significant changes had to be made to bring the riding down to size. The commission proposes removing the City of Duncan and the District Municipality of North Cowichan, part of Ladysmith and surrounding areas and moving them to the new riding of “South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca”. In addition, the riding gains a bit more of Nanaimo.

If anything, the riding gets slighly more Conservative with the addition of more of Nanaimo. While the riding would gain all of the NDP friendly areas in west Nanaimo, it also has to take in a lot of Conservative areas with it. However, almost all of the Conservative pockets of the current riding will be lost to the new riding of South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca. Without looking at a transposition of the numbers however, it is difficult to tell which party would gain from this. But, the most important fact is, the riding remains a safe-NDP seat. It should be noted that NDP MP Jean Crowder lives in Duncan, and would find herself outside of her riding, as she is being re-districted into the new South Cowichan riding.

Saanich—Gulf Islands
One of the ridings the Conservatives have been targeting through the redistribution, is this riding, located north of Victoria. It is currently held by Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party. She defeated a Conservative cabinet minister in 2011, and the Tories want this riding back. And, at 117,000 people, the riding had to be shrunk. And no matter how you slice it, the riding is going to have to lose some “Green” friendly areas, as the Conservative part of the riding is all along the eastern coast, and therefore cannot be easily lobbed off and given to another riding, as across the strait from the riding's east coast lies the United States. And sure enough, the area that the commission decided to remove was a strong anti-Conservative area in the southwestern corner of the riding, around Swan Lake in Saanich (I say anti-Conservative because the area goes for whatever party that has the best shot against the Conservatives in the riding be it the NDP in 2006, the Liberals in 2008 and the Greens in 2011). May shouldn't get too scare though, because she did win the riding by 10%, and losing this small area probably wont cut into her lead too much. It does shrink the riding down to 108,000 people.

British Columbia's capital riding is only seeing a minor change to its border. Presently, the riding 111,000 which is only slightly too large. The commission decided to move the Victoria West neighbourhood out of the riding, perhaps because it is geographically isolated from the rest of the riding- despite still being within the City of Victoria. Victoria West shares a land boundary with (and is for all intents and purposes an extension of) the District Municipality of Esquimalt, but it is only connected to the rest of Victoria by two bridges over the Gorge Waterway. This change brings the population of the riding down to 104,000 which is actually slightly less than the provincial average.

Victoria is the safest riding on Vancovuer Island for the NDP. Removing Victoria West might make the riding more NDP friendly, as the area did have two polls that went Conservative in 2011. However, it was also home to some polls where the Tories got less than 20%, so all in all no change, really.

The western suburbs of Victoria are growing quite rapidly, and has meant that the current riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has become the most populous on Vancouver Island with a population of 132,000. To shed enough people, the commission decided to remove the sparsely populated western 6/7ths of the riding, basically the area west of Colwood along the Juan de Fuca Strait. The riding thus becomes more suburban in nature, losing its exurban and rural communities to the proposed new riding of “South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca”. In addition, the newly named riding of Esquimalt—Colwood acquires the neighbourhood of Victoria West from the riding of Victoria, and the area around Swan Lake in Saanich from Saanich—Gulf Islands. These changes bring the population of the riding down to 108,000.

In 2011, the riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca featured a razor thin race where the NDP won by 0.63% of the votes. The proposed changes in the riding do not make the situation any clearer. Most of the area being lost is NDP friendly, but there is some Conservative parts of the riding going as well. In addition, the area around Swan Lake in Saanich will probably vote NDP next election, as Elizabeth May would no longer be their NDP. What's left in this riding includes the very strong NDP area of Esquimalt against the more Conservative suburban areas like Colwood, View Royal and Saanich.

South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca
This is the new riding being proposed in Vancouver Island. It consists of the area around City of Duncan, the District Municipality of North Cowichan, part of Ladysmith and the area along the Juan de Fuca Strait west of Colwood. These two areas are an interesting combination for one riding, as they have little to do with each other. They are only connected by one highway, the Trans-Canada which also forms part of the eastern boundary. This strange combination might just be unavoidable however, the geography of the region has meant that there are quite a few limitations for the riding. The total population for the riding would be 106,000.

It appears that this new riding will probably vote NDP. Both parts of the riding have some strong NDP areas, but there are some Conservative pockets as well. Also, if NDP MP Jean Crowder decides to run in this riding, it will boost the party's chances.

One problem I have with this riding is the name. Why would use the name “South Cowichan” to refer to an area that includes a major municipality by the name of “North Cowichan”. I would prefer to have this riding named “Juan de Fuca—Cowichan”.

At present, the NDP is polling quite high in B.C. These new proposed borders could help facilitate a near sweep for the party in Vancouver Island. At the very least, they will probably gain the new riding of South Cowichan—Juan de Fuca, but it might come at the expense of losing the Esquimalt riding that they currently hold. Most of the proposed ridings on Vancouver Island appear to be marginal, meaning a good election for the Tories might mean winning almost all the seats there as well.

As for the boundaries themselves, I would definitely shrink the proposed ridings a bit so that Powell River remains out of Vancouver Island North. Most of the proposed ridings are still over sized, so why include an area that is not already in the region? I would also maybe try and re-configure the Victoria suburban ridings so that Juan de Fuca and South Cowichan are lumped in together. But, even if changes are made, two regions with little to with each other would have to be lumped together anyways.


  1. Here is another idea. I see your point about having Powell River and a piece of the west coast of the mainland in the north Vancouver Island riding...but there is a long history of there being a riding that combined northern Vancouver Island with the coast (remember the riding of Comox-Powell River that was there from the 1970s up to the 90s)?

    What I think is really nuts is taking the whole sunshine coast that is full of loggers and fishermen etc...and putting them in the same riding with West Vancouver and Whistler - which is all filthy rich monster homes and lots of ostentatious new money etc...Why can't they take ALL of the sunshine coast away from the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky highway riding and then move the boundaries of that riding east to take in a chunk of North Vancouver and then North vancouver can move east and take in the chunk that was going to be merged with Burnaby?

    If you take the entire Sunshine Coast and add it to North Vancouver Island minus the half of Courtenay that would then be given to Nanaimo-Alberni - you would have a nice NDP-friendly riding that would essentially be composed of the two provincial ridings of Powell-River-Sunshine Coast and North Island.

  2. Expand further into the mainland? And give Vancouver Island ridings even more people? That wouldn't work at all. I see your point of having Powell River in with Vancouver Island, but it's not necessitated by population. And just because it was done historically, doesn't mean it's okay. Ideally none of Vancouver Island North would be on the mainland.

    Speaking of "Comox-Powell River", that wouldn't be a bad name for the riding either (for historical reasons).

  3. Earl,
    Good job on these riding boundary updates, and on your blog in general! I'll be checking back here for more. If you're curious, I made a rough calculation of how the proposed New Brunswick ridings would have gone based on the 2011 results. I'll be posting them soon here:

  4. Good stuff! Great blog by the way. Interesting to see the Fredericton numbers.

  5. This redistribution in the Victoria is problematic because it divides both of the major municipalities between ridings.

    Since 1871 the City of Victoria has never been split between two ridings, this is a first and I do not see it as something beneficial.

    Saanich has enough people to fill riding but it split into three, this is not right.

    The areas of Saanich in Victoria should be moved to a Saanich riding. You could then create a Victoria riding with Oak Bay, a Saanich only one and a Westshore one with all five westshore local governments and Esquimalt.

    Sidney, North Saanich, Central Saanich and the Gulf Islands could be with Cowichan - this has happened in the past. It is also no more odd than South Cowichan-Juan de Fuca.

    It also means the other three ridings in the CRD make the most sense.

    As to Powell River, it gets to bounce back and forth between ridings again. It could remain with the current riding where it is though add Pemberton to it and remove the majority of West Van.

    Removing Powell River would allow the boundaries in the Comox Valley to be more rational than they are now. I have trouble imagining a worse boundary than the one they chose

    1. These suggestions make a lot of sense, especially the idea of making three ridings in the CRD and avoiding the Malahat-crossing Juan de Fuca to North Cowichan riding. It also makes a lot more sense to put the Gulf Islands with Duncan (remember Nanaimo-Cowichan and the Islands?) than to put them with Saanich, even if that's not how the main ferry connections run. And why does Saanich-Gulf Islands extend anywhere south of Mackenzie -- because the Cedar Hill Golf Course is green space?

  6. Sounds like your proposal would anger Elizabeth May to no end. I think her people really tried their best to influence the commission, but that is just my speculation. I think now keeping Powell River in the North Island riding may not be such a bad idea if it means avoiding the Burnaby-Seymour riding (move Whistler and Squamish out of West Van so it can move over into North Van, and have North Van keep the Seymour area.