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New West politicos and residents voice concerns about electoral boundary proposals

Mayor-elect Patrick Johnstone: “Five separate ridings for 80,000 people from New Westminster is too many.”
A new New Westminster-Maillardville riding is one of the proposals being proposed by the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission.

Splitting New Westminster into five electoral ridings makes “no sense” – and could have negative consequences for the city hall, the school district and residents

Those were the sentiments presented by several local residents at the Electoral Boundaries commission meeting in New Westminster on Nov. 2.

A preliminary report for the BC Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended that parts of New Westminster be included in five provincial ridings: Burnaby East, Burnaby-New Westminster, Burnaby South, New Westminster-Maillardville, and Richmond Queensborough.

“Five separate ridings for 80,000 people from New Westminster is too many and it will not serve the primary purpose, which is to assure voters are well represented and able to inform themselves when it comes time for a provincial election,” said Mayor-elect Patrick Johnstone.

Johnstone said the City of New Westminster does not have the staff component that would be necessary to maintain strong working relationships with five separate MLA’s constituency offices.

“It's necessary, with so much of the work that a local government does today is addressing provincial issues and connecting residents with provincial issues, from housing security to health,” he said. “So that's an important aspect of the work of our staff that may be impacted by trying to spread across too many constituencies.”

Johnstone said that splitting New West into five ridings would also impact the way representative democracy works in the community. He said the city has been blessed with proactive and connected MLAs, including Dawn Black and Anita Hagen, who have had deep personal connections to this community – connections that matter.

“When a local voter knows their local representative, for good or bad, they are more likely to vote for or against that municipal representative,” he said. “But they're also more likely to try to connect to that representative and share their concerns.”

New Westminster residents are currently represented in two electoral areas – New Westminster, which is all of the city’s mainland, and Richmond-Queensborough. Queensborough was moved into the Richmond riding in 2017 because of the city’s population growth.

Denise Tambellini, the City of New Westminster’s intergovernmental and community relations manager, also voiced concerns about the proposal to divide New West into five ridings.

“As one of the fastest growing municipalities, with 43 per cent of our population living in multifamily units, the expansion from two ridings to five may prove difficult for effective communication and intergovernmental relations,” she said. “It will be challenging to ensure all MLAs are briefed on issues affecting the city, neighbourhoods and council. It will also be difficult for residents to know who their provincial representatives are.”

Under the current proposal, Tambellini said only New Westminster-Maillardville is comprised of primarily New West residents.

“The remaining ridings are overpowered by larger municipalities with unique issues of their own and varying municipal priorities and their own advocacy plans,” she said. “It may be difficult to ensure residents feel represented, and intergovernmental relations can effectively understand issues when, for example, in Burnaby East, only 970 residents are from New Westminster – one example of a small subdivision carved up in the New Westminster community.”

Tambellini said the division of New West into five different electoral areas has the potential to create barriers for connected and vibrant communities.

As a Queensborough resident, Tambellini said she has seen the effects that “carving up” a small piece of the city has had on perpetuating the perception of separateness of Queensborough from the rest of New West.

“The riding has combined with Richmond and comprises only 18 per cent of the Richmond-East riding,” she said. “While Queensborough has grown by 29 per cent over the last four years, which is significant, Richmond still dominates the constituency.”

Tambellini said the commission faces a difficult task, but she hopes it will consider the city’s message of the need for cohesion, strong and connected communities, and the important advocacy role of local MLAs.

Longtime New West resident Elmer Rudolph also spoke at Wednesday’s meeting at the Inn at the Quay, urging the commission to reconsider its current proposal to divide the city into five ridings.

“This seems to defy common-sense when our community is so small geographically,” he said. “As I said, only 15 square kilometres; the smallest in our province.”

Rudolph expressed concern about the proposal to place the Connaught Heights neighbourhood – which is less than one-square-kilometre in size and has a population of 1,700 people – in the Burnaby South electoral district.

“(It’s) 40 times its geographical size with a population of tens of thousands,” he said. “I cannot see the logic that requires this very large Burnaby South riding to attach such an insignificantly-sized neighbourhood, while with the same stroke, to remove this small piece from its politically historic connection to the City of New Westminster.”

Rudolph also expressed concern about the proposal to place the area bounded by Eighth and 10th avenues, and McBride Boulevard and Cumberland Street, into the Burnaby East riding. He said that area’s population of 300 people would be located in an electoral district that’s 33-kilometres in size and has a population of tens of thousands of people.

“Surely, attaching such a minuscule area cannot materially affect the status of the Burnaby-East district, which is gargantuan by comparison,” he said of the Mott Crescent area.

Rudolph questioned why those two “tiny neighbourhoods” with a population of 2,000 people couldn’t remain in the two new ridings of Burnaby-New Westminster and New Westminster-Maillardville.

School district voices concerns

Maya Russell, a member of the New Westminster school board, told the commission that the Mott Crescent area proposed for inclusion in Burnaby-East is home to FW Howay Elementary School, but it doesn’t include most of that school’s catchment area. She requested that it remain in a New Westminster riding.

“It would be it would be quite odd for that neighbourhood and that one elementary school to be the one New Westminster neighbourhood as part of a bigger Burnaby riding,” she said. “I know MLAs work hard to represent all their constituents, but it would it be hard to see that being their top priority given that the Burnaby school district would be their main relationship.”

Russell, who later told the Record she was speaking on behalf of herself and not the board, said the school district would prefer that the Connaught Heights area remain in a New Westminster riding.

With New West being home to one large high school, Russell said the school district’s preference is that NWSS be located in the main New Westminster riding, rather than the new New Westminster-Maillardville electoral district.

“Moving that out of that main New Westminster riding is not our preference,” she said. “We would definitely prefer to see a main New Westminster riding that contains that high school. Because, again, we have one high school and that relationship with the government around funding that school is important.”

Ideally, said Russell, New Westminster would be restricted to a maximum of three ridings.

Russell told the commission that the advocacy of New Westminster’s two MLAs at the provincial level has been “incredibly important” to the school district. She singled out the “considerable advocacy” that was needed to secure funding for the new high school.

“It was, I think, critical to have a single, leading MLA in our relationship at the provincial level,” she said. “So when I look at the change from our current situation of two MLAs … the change to five MLAs is very concerning to us. It seems just technically challenging to maintain relationships with five MLAs and to ensure that they understand our interests.”

Russell said it could be challenging to incorporate parts of New West into a riding with Maillardville.

“Maillardville is a wonderful community. We have lots in common: traditional working class communities. Nothing against Maillardville, but it seems to me that we've sort of lost some significant portions of New Westminster for Maillardville, and that's kind of happening at the expense of New Westminster,” she said. “We have a historic lacrosse team, the Salmonbellies, which have been Mann Cup winners. We are the home of the (Canadian) Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and it would actually be quite challenging for the New Westminster MLA to be cheering for both the Adanacs and the Salmonbellies.”

Russell, who spoke during the commission’s first round of public hearings, also told the commission that she was delighted to see the proposed changes that would result in improved representation for urban voters.

“It was something that I spoke about, just the concern that urban voters are under heavily underrepresented, and that when we look at the demographic shifts we've seen in our province over the last 10 years that that resulted in racialized people being less represented, quite remarkably and starkly. And that that is a discriminatory impact that needs to be rectified,” she said. “So I was, overall, delighted to see the increase in urban representation. And I thank you for that.”


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