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Pros and cons seen in new electoral boundaries

Posted on August 15, 2013 by Taber Times

While voters in the Taber area have been forced into a reluctant acceptance that they will be selecting a new MP in a newly-carved federal electoral riding in 2015, municipal leaders from throughout the new Bow River constituency have mixed opinions about the changes.

A final decision handed down by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission in May rejected the objections of numerous municipalities and two sitting MPs in southern Alberta and opted to push forward with an expanded Medicine Hat riding and the new constituency of Bow River, of which Taber is a part.

Stretching north-south across the interior of the province and encompassing a vast tract of territory, the new Bow River constituency will include the M.D. of Taber, the counties of Vulcan, Newell, Wheatland and parts of the counties of Kneehill and Rocky View. At its furthest extent, the huge riding will range from Three Hills in the north to Taber in the south, a distance of almost 300 kilometres.

Mayor Patricia Matthews of Chestermere views the electoral boundary change as a definite positive for her community, and an opportunity to see an enhancement of Chestermere’s profile at the federal level.

“I think it gives us the opportunity to be better represented, not that previously we weren’t, but we were certainly getting up there in the way of numbers, and this gives us the opportunity to have a dedicated Member of Parliament, which I’m very excited about.”

Chestermere was previously part of the Crowfoot constituency, however Matthews is welcoming the switch to the Bow River riding.

“I think that we have some great communities in the new riding. I’m anxious to see who will be leading us in the future, and I think they’ll have to have great leadership skills, because you do have a really diverse set of populations. You’ve got great representation in the south. The Brooks area, the Strathmore area, the Chestermere area, all combined together will I think have a really good voice. We do a lot of economics back and forth between Strathmore, and we’re very familiar with Brooks as well.”

and I guess this is an opportunity to get to know our southern cousins better.”

Mayor Tom Rose of Bassano had the opposite opinion of the federal boundary changes, citing natural geographic features that have long served as traditional boundaries that have now been tossed aside by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission.

“I’m not very happy with it. I’m one of the few mayors in this region that went down to Lethbridge and voiced my displeasure with the change, because Bassano wants to stay in with Medicine Hat, because we’re part of Palliser, and there’s a river that separates us. My biggest concern is the Bow River has typically been boundary for us, and we typically don’t do much business with Taber or Coaldale or anywhere along that corridor. We tend to do more business with Medicine Hat, and our health care services, and our ambulance services, all of that stuff is what we share with Medicine Hat. So I’m not really happy with it, but it is what it is, so we’ll just have to adapt.”

While Rose admits his disapproval, he noted federal electoral boundary changes are hardly as impactful as changes at the provincial electoral level.

“I don’t think federally we’re as affected as if our provincial electoral boundary had changed. They tried doing that a couple of years ago, and ultimately they decided to keep the County of Wheatland and the County of Newell together. That’s worked out well, and that’s where we really need the boundaries to remain the way they are. The federal boundaries aren’t as important. Having said that, I’d still would like to be in the previous boundary then what we are now federally.”

Based upon population levels, but intended to deliver an overall agricultural focus, the proposed Bow River riding would include the major population centres of Strathmore, Brooks, Vulcan, Vauxhall, Bassano, and Chestermere.

Taber, with a population of 8,104, would be the third largest urban population centre in the riding.

Mayor Martin Shields of Brooks pointed out Taber’s natural economic connections are east-west, not north-south.

“Tom Rose and I both appeared together before the boundaries commission, and we made a suggestion as to how they should draw the lines, and obviously we didn’t carry much weight. Taber’s an interesting one, and I think it’s too bad Taber isn’t included in that riding with either Medicine Hat or Lethbridge, because I think that’s much more of a connection. I think that makes it tough in the Taber area.

Shields pointed out rural municipal economic connections throughout the new riding are naturally north-south, not east-west, especially in a federal constituency bisected by the Bow River.

“In the Brooks area, our natural trading area is mostly Medicine Hat, but quite a bit to Calgary, there’s no doubt about that. But it is a big, strung out constituency from Taber up to Kneehill County — it’s a massive, massive area. When we talked to the boundaries commission, we said ‘hey, don’t do that kind of thing’, which they did. The Bow River is a natural divider, and to have the County of Vulcan on one side and the County of Newell on the other, that’s not a good thing to do, and yet they did it. There’s great people in the County of Vulcan, but the natural movement isn’t east-west, it’s north-south. It’s going to make it tough.”

Shields did make light of the similar-sized urban centres sprinkled throughout the Bow River constituency as a potential positive factor.

“If you take Taber, and you take Brooks, and you take Strathmore, and you take Chestermere, we’re all fairly similar in size. So there’s some commonality between the four, it’s just the huge geographic distances that are in between. We’re on the Bow River, and now we’re part of the Bow River constituency, so maybe they’ll know where we are hopefully.”

Mayor Howard Dirks of Vulcan stressed the importance of forging an effective working relationship with any new MP representing the area.

“On any kind of a boundary adjustment, it’s hard to say it will work out. The proof is always in the pudding. And until we know what that pudding is, and how it works out, it’s really hard to say. Are we on the tail end of a riding? Are we going to be a large enough part in the riding that we will get some attention? Obviously we’ll be shifting our MP, and the only thing I can say there is we were very happy with our old MP, and I thought he was doing a great job for us. But that’s not to say that this can’t work out. It will totally depend on the relationship that we build with the new MP, and the new MP builds with our community.”

In the County of Newell, Reeve Molly Douglass was cautiously positive about the boundary changes, citing an intended overall rural/agricultural focus for the new riding.

“I’m always looking to make sure that there are fellow rural counties or M.D.’s with us, for obvious reasons. Judging from that, I think we have a pretty good rural base, and that pleases me. It’s always good when the rural has a base in the riding, and I think it’s as good as it could get with our smaller rural populations and our big areas.”

Douglass would like to see a new MP from a rural or agricultural background represent the riding in Ottawa.

“I’m confident that whoever comes to represent us will be able to do a good job, and hopefully we can find somebody from more of a rural background, would be what I would like to see.”

Note: This article is meant to represent a selection of municipal opinions from throughout the Bow River constituency, not a comprehensive survey of all municipal representatives.

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