Alberta will lose three rural ridings heading into 2019 election

Alberta MLAs have voted to get rid of three rural ridings and add three urban ones in time for the next provincial election in 2019.

Members of the legislature officially made the changes yesterday, voting 41-25 for dismantling rural ridings so Edmonton, Calgary and Airdrie-Cochrane each could gain one. Twenty-one MLAs were absent for the vote.

The changes in seat distribution were spurred by the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission, which suggested Alberta’s cities are growing at a faster rate than rural communities.

The shift means:

• Four ridings in central northeast Alberta will be combined into three. They include Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville and Bonnyville-Cold Lake.

• In west-central Alberta, the five current ridings will be turned into four. They include Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, West Yellowhead, Drayton Valley-Devon, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne and Stony Plain.

• In eastern Alberta, seven ridings will be turned into six. They include Battle River-Wainwright, Drumheller-Stettler, Strathmore-Brooks, Little Bow, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Cypress-Medicine Hat and Vermilion-Lloydminster.

During the debate in the house Dec. 13, all United Conservative Party MLAs voted against the changes, arguing rural Alberta’s voice in the legislature will become quieter.

Richard Starke, the lone Progressive Conservative MLA representing Vermilion-Lloydminster, added that rural MLAs will now have to travel longer distances to meet their constituents.

“When you’re there, you’re telling them you care,” he told the assembly.

“As rural ridings become larger and larger, they become a lot more difficult to travel in, and no amount of teleconferencing is going to change that.”

Of the 42 NDP MLAs present for the vote, only two voted against the changes.

Colin Piquette, the NDP MLA for Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater, said while he understands why cities might need more ridings, many people in the rural communities he represents told him they were concerned with the changes.

“They were concerned about the dilution of representation, and they urged me that what they wanted to see was the status quo,” he told the house.

Al Kemmere, president of the Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, had been lobbying the government to maintain the status quo by not changing the electoral map.

He said in an interview earlier today that he’s disappointed with the changes but hopes there are more opportunities in the future to enhance rural Alberta’s voice in the legislature

“We need to find ways to work with the government to come up with new tools or better tools,” he said.

“That could mean more constituency offices so people can get to their government representative more effectively, or it could mean more innovative tools like connecting over the Internet.

“We just have to ensure rural Albertans have more access to broadband if that’s the case.”

To view the new electoral boundaries, visit www.abebc.ca.

Contact jeremy.simes@producer.com

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