Big changes are expected soon for the Cowichan Valley electoral district, and many other ridings across B.C.
In response to recommendations from the independent Electoral Boundaries Commission, the province’s legislature introduced amendments to the Electoral Districts Act on April 17 to increase the number of ridings in B.C. from 87 to 93 in an effort to ensure votes in provincial elections are weighted evenly across B.C.
As part of the plan, the commission is also recommending many changes in 72 electoral districts in its final report, with another 41 seeing their names change.
One of the changes includes taking Shawnigan Lake, Mill Bay and Cobble Hill from the Cowichan Valley electoral district and making them part of a reconfigured Juan de Fuca-Malahat riding to the south.
The changes to the Juan de Fuca-Malahat riding would unite the communities along the Strait of Juan de Fuca — Metchosin, Sooke and Port Renfrew — with those north of the Malahat Pass: Shawnigan Lake, Mill Bay and Cobble Hill.
As for other changes to the Cowichan Valley riding, the commission wants to see boundary adjustments for the electoral district to include Chemainus and Crofton in the north.
The commission contends that these changes would better balance the population of the Cowichan Valley riding with its neighbours.
Attorney General Niki Sharma said every vote counts.
“As our province continues to grow, it’s critical that our provincial electoral districts equitably represent the people of B.C,” she said.
“These changes will make sure British Columbians can continue to have confidence their voices will be heard in the B.C. legislature.”
North of the Cowichan Valley, the commission is recommending that the Greater Nanaimo area’s three ridings be re-aligned into Nanaimo-Gabriola, Nanaimo-Lantzville and Ladysmith-Oceanside.
The proposed change would mean that Ladysmith, Saltair and Cassidy would become part of a riding with Nanoose Bay, Parksville and Qualicum Beach, encircling Nanaimo’s two ridings.
Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, who is also the head the provincial Green Party, said that if the changes go through, which she expects they will before the end of the legislature’s spring session, she intends to run for the Green Party in the Juan de Fuca-Malahat riding in the next provincial election.
Furstenau, who was first elected as the MLA for Cowichan Valley in 2017, said she lives in Shawnigan Lake and wants to continue to represent the area in government.
She said she first got involved with politics during the fight to close the controversial contaminated soil site in Shawnigan Lake several years ago, which rallied the community.
“It was representation that was rooted in my community,” Furstenau said.
“I spoke to the Electoral Boundaries Commission after the draft report came out (in October, 2022) and I made the case to see Shawnigan Lake remain in the Cowichan Valley district.”
Furstenau said that in politics, you always have to be comfortable with a level of uncertainty.
“I can control things like the work I do, but not changes to electoral boundaries or when elections are called,” she said.
“I have to stay focused on things that I can effect change on. Right now, being the MLA for the Cowichan Valley is a top priority and I will continue to work on a number of important issues and files here, including housing, health care, the new hospital and high school and several environmental issues, including waste and soil dumping in the Valley.”
Mike Wilson, the director for Cobble Hill in the Cowichan Valley Regional District said his area’s shift to the Juan de Fuca-Malahat riding looks like it could work well, at least on paper.
“It would include us with rural areas of that riding and keep us out of Langford and the Capital Regional District, and that could be good as we have different outlooks and problems in our rural areas,” he said.
“So at first look, I think it’s going to be OK for Cobble Hill, but we’ll have to wait and see as it’s a whole new ballgame.”
As for the changes to Ladysmith, Nanaimo and the surrounding areas, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone said he disagrees with the proposal, stating the new ridings of Nanaimo-Gabriola, Nanaimo-Lantzville and Ladysmith-Oceanside will create a disconnect “that just doesn’t make sense.”
“If you look at the previous few censuses, we’re all focused on different demographic directions,” he said.
“Parksville and Qualicum are continuing to age while we’re continuing to try to attract families and get younger.”
Stone said historically, Ladysmith has strong ties with communities in the Cowichan Valley and noted that the town is a member of the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
He said it “becomes really challenging when we don’t have those established relationships in representation.”
Doug Routley, MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan, suggested he’s indifferent to the recommended riding changes.
“[Boundaries] are always more difficult when they’re first issued, then people adapt and find ways to build new relationships, and preserve those that they already have,” he said.
Routley has been serving as an MLA to the Ladysmith and south Nanaimo area since 2005 and he has experienced multiple boundary changes in his career.
“The past couple of terms, I’ve have had to go into the Nanaimo constituency to take a ferry to Gabriola to an island I represent as [Nanaimo]-North Cowichan, so that was a little different,” he said.
“I can definitely empathize with people. But again, everyone from [Ladysmith council] and the various council members on Chemainus council, the school board trustees, we’ve got a really dynamic and capable group of people who are doing really good things. I find them all to be really good partners and I just have a lot of confidence that they’ll translate that into the new arrangements.”
—With files from Black Press