By Trevor Busch
When Taberites head to the polls in 2019, they’ll be voting in a newly-designated provincial riding known as Taber-Warner.
During the final day of the sitting of the legislature on Dec. 13, the Electoral Divisions Act was passed. Instead of folding the region into a huge Taber-Vulcan riding, following backlash to their interim report Alberta’s electoral boundaries commission recommended a hybrid approach through Taber-Warner and Cardston-Siksika ridings.
“That was actually the last bill to pass,” said Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter. “So it will be Taber-Warner, which takes in a little past Manyberries — that used to be Cypress-Medicine Hat — and it’s taking in Coaldale as well.”
The Taber-Warner riding encompasses portions of the current riding (Cardston-Taber-Warner) but would also include Coaldale, Milk River, Bow Island, Foremost and hamlets right to the County of Forty Mile’s eastern border. The Old Man and South Saskatchewan Rivers would become the northern boundary. Cardston-Siksika forms a tall, hourglass-shaped riding stretching north and south of the city of Lethbridge. Its boundaries will extend all the way from the U.S. border to a section of the Trans-Canada Highway. Now approved in the legislature, Cardston and Magrath will now share an MLA with Coalhurst, Picture Butte and Vauxhall along with communities in Vulcan County and the Siksika First Nation.
The Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission tabled their final report in late October. The commission’s interim report was tabled in May, and collapsing Cardston-Taber-Warner into the proposed Taber-Vulcan riding, as well as a southwest riding carved from the remnants called Cardston-Kainai, was among the commission’s recommendations. In May, the recommendation was met with opposition by the region’s largely Wildrose MLAs, who were uniformly critical of the implications and challenges the change represented with regard to geography and population.
The final iteration differs from the interim recommendation in that it substantially reduces the geographic size of the earlier proposed Taber-Vulcan constituency, combining the remainder of Cardston-Kainai and Taber-Vulcan ridings and avoiding the splitting of the County of Forty Mile. According to the commission’s report, ‘considerable input was received in relation to this idea, with many concerned about perceived communications challenges arising from the size and shape of the proposed Taber-Vulcan constituency.” The proposed Taber-Vulcan riding would have reconfigured the present Little Bow riding to absorb the remaining area south of the Cypress-Medicine Hat riding, extending from the Saskatchewan boundary west, along the U.S. border.
The boundary changes are designed to rebalance the number of voters in the province’s population centres without increasing the current number of MLAs. Reflecting continuous growth in the two metropolitan areas and their bedroom communities, the commission called for three more urban ridings, two in the Calgary area and one in Edmonton. To facilitate that, it recommended five electoral districts west and southwest of Edmonton be reconfigured as four, while four in the Vegreville-St. Paul area be redrawn as three.
The most complex rearrangement was recommended in rural regions in the province’s southern and eastern areas. Changes affecting today’s Little Bow, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Cypress-Medicine Hat, Drumheller-Stettler, Strathmore-Brooks, Battle River-Wainwright and Vermilion-Lloydminster constituencies will reduce those seven seats to six.
The resultant populations of the Taber-Warner (42,625) and Cardston-Siksika (42,655) ridings are both nine per cent below the provincial average population size.
Hunter has reserved any decision on where he might choose to seek re-election in 2019. Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider has been more forthcoming, telling the Times in early November that he would be seeking re-election in the Cardston-Siksika riding in 2019.
The new boundaries will not take effect until the writ is dropped for the next provincial election.