Plan to reduce rural ridings irks MDs

Al Kemmere, president of the AAMD&C, called on members to support his resolution to lobby the government on not reducing the number of rural ridings.  |  Jeremy Simes Photo

Alberta’s rural leaders plan to lobby the provincial government to maintain the number of non-urban electoral ridings.

They argue that reducing the number of rural ridings would reduce rural voices in the legislature.

The decision to take up the issue came about following a resolution passed Nov. 15 at the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties’ (AAMD&C) annual convention.

Recent recommendations by the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission suggested rural Alberta sacrifice three ridings so Edmonton, Calgary and Airdrie-Cochrane each could gain one.

Commission members, who are independent of the government, argued for the reduction in rural seats because Alberta’s cities are growing at a faster rate than that of non-urban communities.

But AAMD&C members are troubled by the proposal.

Al Kemmere, president of the AAMD&C, said that while cities have grown exponentially, rural communities are also growing.

“What’s really missing here is community characteristics and the things that make a riding home to people,” he said.

He argued rural MLAs must cover larger geographic areas than do their city counterparts to meet with constituents.

If rural ridings are enlarged to compensate for having fewer of them, he said it will mean fewer rural politicians in the legislature and it will become even more difficult for them to personally reach voters.

“It’s already almost impossible for MLAs to service (large rural ridings),” he said.

The resolution states the province can still add three ridings to cities if it chooses, but it urges the government to keep the current number of rural ridings the same.

Ninety-five percent of AAMD&C members voted in favour of the resolution.

It might be tricky for the government to add three new city ridings while also keeping the rural ridings intact. When the province tasked the commission to review the boundaries, it indicated that commission members were not allowed to create more ridings.

However, Kemmere said nothing is final.

“What we’re doing is making a statement that we need to protect rural Alberta. We understand three new ridings will cost money, but we need to understand that these rural ridings need to remain manageable.”

Here is what the commission recommended:

  • Four ridings in central northeast Alberta 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 — Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre, West Yellowhead, Drayton Valley-Devon, Whitecourt-Ste. Anne and Stony Plain — would be reduced to four.
  • In eastern Alberta, seven ridings would be turned into six. They include Battle River-Wainwright, Drumheller-Stettler, Strathmore-Brooks, Little Bow, Cardston-Taber-Warner, Cypress-Medicine Hat and Vermilion-Lloydminster.

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