Restoring independence to electoral boundaries commissions

The commission will have the option to recommend adding up to as many as six new electoral districts

THE Province is introducing amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act to provide the upcoming electoral boundaries commission with more independence and flexibility as it works to recommend an electoral map for the next two general elections.

Under the act, a commission must be appointed and in place within a year of the last general election. To ensure the upcoming commission’s mandate is clear before the commission is appointed, government is introducing amendments to the act.

Improving commission independence:

This bill would remove the amendments made to the act in 2014, which limited the commission’s independence by establishing three regions that were collectively restricted to a minimum of 17 seats, regardless of their population or the preferred recommendations of the commission. This made B.C. an outlier, as most other provinces do not have these kinds of regions. Those that do have regions offer fewer restrictions on seats than B.C.

The intent of these amendments is to ensure the location of political boundaries between seats is determined not by politicians, but by an independent commission. The process will not be guided by political interests, but by a legislated mandate to establish effective representation for British Columbians. The commission will be asked to achieve through recommendations – to the extent possible – the fundamental democratic principle that everyone’s vote should be reasonably equal in weight in choosing elected officials.

Other factors that will be considered by the commission under the legislation will be population, geography, means of communication and means of transportation to help ensure effective representation.

Responding to B.C. population growth and restoring flexibility to the commission:

The proposed amendments include changes to enhance the commission’s ability to respond to B.C.’s significant population growth.

B.C.’s population is expected to have grown by over 500,000 people since the last electoral boundaries were set. The current legislation caps the maximum number of electoral districts at 87, which is the current number of electoral districts. One of the amendments would give the commission the option to recommend adding up to as many as six new districts, ensuring the commission has the flexibility to develop an electoral map that supports effective representation throughout the province.

Factors to consider in deviating from equally weighted votes throughout the province:

The amendments continue the principles that:

* the commission must seek to recommend electoral districts with populations within plus or minus 25% of the average electoral district population; and

* the commission may recommend electoral districts with populations outside that range.

However, the proposed amendments further recognize the representation concerns in less populated regions by specifying that the commission may take into account special considerations respecting demographic and geographic factors. These factors include keeping a manageable geographic size for electoral districts in order to ensure effective representation.

Quick Facts:

* An electoral boundaries commission is non-partisan and independent of government. It will be made up of three individuals:
– B.C.’s chief electoral officer;

– a judge or retired judge of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal, nominated by the lieutenant-governor in council;

– another person nominated by the Speaker of the legislative assembly, in consultation with the premier and leader of the official Opposition.

* The commission will present an initial report to the legislature within 12 months of being appointed.
* It will then have six months to hear from the public and consider any further input before a final report is presented to the legislature.

* The Province will confirm the members of this year’s commission by October 24, 2021.