Saanich calls for its own federal riding

Saanich residents are currently represented by three members of parliament

Saanich residents are currently represented by three members of parliament, as federal electoral district boundaries dissect the municipality into three different ridings.

But council and some vocal residents are urging the government to create a Saanich-only riding in an attempt to quell confusion and increase voter turnout.

Coun. Judy Brownoff brought forward a recommendation to council last week asking that a letter be sent to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission supporting a substantial reconfiguration that would see all of Saanich represented by one MP.

“Our residents in (Saanich-Gulf Islands) have none of the same kind of issues that would be happening on the Gulf Islands or on the Peninsula,” she said. “My area is Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. As a municipality, we have little in common with View Royal, Colwood, Sooke.”

Every 10 years the federal government reexamines riding distribution, based on new census numbers. Earlier this year, changes to the three Greater Victoria riding were proposed, none of which would unify Saanich in a single riding.

“Are they really trying to get rid of Saanich as an identity?” Brownoff asked, citing the names of the proposed ridings – Saanich-Gulf Islands, Esquimalt-Colwood, and Victoria – all of which would contain a piece of Saanich. She also specifically noted that the proposed Esquimalt-Colwood riding would contain Saanich municipal hall, as well as all of Saanich west of the Pat Bay Highway.

“I think it behooves the federal government to ensure whatever way they’re trying to address this, it’s not just based on numbers,” Brownoff said.

While the government says the main goal of redistribution is to ensure “each electoral district contains roughly the same number of people,” it acknowledges there are other considerations taken into account, including communities of interest, identity and an electoral district’s history.

In B.C., the target number per electoral district is 104,763. Saanich’s population, based on the 2011 census, is 109,752.

John Schmuck, president of the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association, says his community would be “slashed right down the middle” if the proposed boundaries are approved.

“It takes away any cohesion of the community,” he said. While Schmuck was originally in favour of keeping the existing ridings, his community association wouldn’t be opposed to a Saanich-only electoral district.

“It would be the least of all evils,” he said. “You hope common sense will prevail, and we can have good governance, because that’s the important thing that needs to come from this: good governance and community cohesion.”

There was a riding redistribution meeting in Victoria on Oct. 17, which Saanich missed, but council has until Oct. 31 to provide a written statement to B.C.’s independent electoral boundaries commission. Brownoff’s recommendation to council to do just that received unanimous support.

“To use the numbers game only, I think is doing a disservice to voters. … I think what you want is a cohesion, so that the voters appreciate where they live, what they’re following and where they get to vote,” she said.

“I would hate for these electoral boundaries to be based on political reality, as opposed to on-the-ground how people feel, where they live, where they pay taxes. Our big concern should always be how we improve the system to get higher voter turnout, not to confuse the system even more.”



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