Originally published in the Whitecourt Star
The changes proposed to the Whitecourt-Ste. Anne riding by the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission’s May 25 Interim Report has received a variety of responses from local political leaders.
The report recommends adding three new ridings — one in Edmonton and two in Calgary — to account for their growing populations.
To maintain the current number of seats in the legislature, the report suggests three amalgamations of northern Alberta ridings, including one that would split Whitecourt Ste. Anne in two.
Under this formulation, Whitecourt and Woodlands County would join West Yellowhead, and Mayerthorpe and most of Lac St. Anne County would be absorbed by a new riding, Ste. Anne-Stony Plain.
Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak was generally supportive of the changes, which she said reflect the province’s demographic reality.
“I think Whitecourt-Ste. Anne had a feeling that there may be some redistribution in our area, based on the fact that last time the redistribution was done, we were a little low on the population,” she said.
Chichak said that having Whitecourt join the West Yellowhead constituency, “puts us into a situation where we are with communities that have very similar industries as ours,” namely oil and gas, and forestry.
Edson, Hinton and Jasper are the largest municipalities currently part of West Yellowhead, according to Elections Alberta.
“We share a lot of common goals and a lot of common issues that we can work on together collectively,” Chichak added.
County mayors react
Woodlands County Mayor Jim Rennie was similarly supportive of the proposed redistribution, but was not without his criticisms.
“The more that I have a chance to reflect on it, while the geography is certainly going to be a challenge, it really is going to be an energy powerhouse of a constituency,” said Rennie.
Edson, Hinton, Jasper, Woodlands County and Whitecourt all have abundant forestry, and excluding Jasper, are rich in energy resources, he said.
However, this wasn’t what Woodlands County suggested to the commission, given the vast geographical distance between the proposed riding’s municipalities, Rennie said.
“We were trying to find a geographically centred bit,” he said. “You don’t want to have these huge ridings, but I think the solution they came up with for Woodlands County was a pretty good one.”
This geographical concern is why Lac Ste. Anne County Mayor Bill Hegy said he opposes the proposed changes.
“The idea of trying to make all areas somewhat equal in population just doesn’t match the reality of the province,” said Hegy. “Our preference is for things to stay the same.”
He added that if the proposed changes do go through, he wants to see the entirety of Lac Ste. Anne County included in the Ste. Anne-Stony Plain riding, rather than a small western portion of the county split into West Yellowhead, as is currently proposed.
“We’d prefer having everything in one riding,” said Hegy.
Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA speaks
Oneil Carlier, the Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA, called the proposals “very preliminary.”
“People can expect some changes, but as the first draft, I think we need to step back and see where we might be with the final draft,” he said.
“Right now, it generates some interesting conversation, but it’s really too preliminary to make any decisions based on how that might affect any particular MLA,” added Carlier.
Ultimately, any final decision on riding changes will be made by the commission, which Carlier stressed is non-partisan.
“The commission itself is independent from government, so they make their determination based on what’s best for Alberta voters, based on a lot of things, not just demographics, but geography (and) types of industry,” he said.
Public hearings for feedback on the interim boundaries are scheduled on July 17 and 21 in Grande Prairie, Vermilion, Edmonton, Calgary and Brooks.
Albertans can also submit written recommendations to the commission until July 8.