MLA Doug Clovechok’s riding may now be the size of Switzerland, but he can still lean on the fence and talk to his neighbour, MLA Tom Shypitka.
Among other changes to the make-up of political ridings in B.C., the recently released report from the Electoral Boundaries Commission is calling for redrawing of the Kootenay East/Columbia River-Revelstoke ridings bordering the City of Cranbrook, to balance the populations between the two ridings.
The new proposed Columbia River-Revelstoke boundary crosses Highway 3 southwest of Cranbrook and juts to the east to include some areas of Gold Creek and Hidden Valley Rd. It basically slices off Jim Smith Lake, Elizabeth Lake, and areas south and east of Cranbrook from Kootenay East and incorporates them into Columbia River-Revelstoke — Doug Clovechok’s riding.
It also takes several thousand voters from Kootenay East (to be renamed Kootenay Rockies) which, of course, is Tom Shypitka’s riding, and moves them into Columbia River-Revelstoke.
Both MLAs are members of the B.C. Liberal Party, which, in another but unrelated change, is changing its name to BC United this week.
As for the proposed riding changes, it hasn’t passed into law yet, but everyone fully expects it to, sooner rather than later, in the current session of the Legislature.
MLA Clovechok, from Fairmont Hot Springs, is not unenthusiastic about the change.
“I’m excited. It’s not very often that you get to grow your riding,” he said. “Columbia River-Revelstoke has been static for quite a while, and to add some new folks is exciting for me as the MLA.
“We’re going to be picking up a significant piece of Cranbrook. Based on the 2021 Stats Canada census count, we’re going to go from about 37,600 people to 41,000. We’re going to 38,000 square kilometres to a little over 40,000 square kilometres. So we’re the size of Switzerland.”
“Columbia River-Revelstoke is a rural, remote riding, so we’ve got Revelstoke, Golden, Columbia Valley, Kimberley and all the rural areas. Now we have Jim Smith Lake … We’re going to have to reach out to those folks. I know it’s going to be a little unsettling — it’s new — but we’ve established over the last six and a half years a great way to communicate, even though we’re as big as we are.”
The two East Kootenay ridings, after all, share a great deal, culturally, demographically and socially.
“It’s the same folks in a different place,” Clovechok said. “So I don’t see a huge issue around that at all. It’s just a matter of making sure that I’ll be there to serve them just just as well as Mr. Shypitka has. Tom and I work well together And we’ll continue to do that.
“Everybody faces the same thing — Kimberley and Cranbrook aren’t that far away. Affordability is one, housing is another — the price of groceries, the price of gasoline, the price of homes. The list goes on and on. I’ve been very engaged in rural health care. It’s one of my passions. We’ve got an amazing hospital in Cranbrook, but we’ve been fighting for trans-border health care between Alberta and B.C.
“We share more in common than we do in difference.”
Politics can be a zero sum game, even if you’re in the same party. Those several thousand voters going to Columbia River-Revelstoke are thousands of voters leaving Kootenay Rockies. MLA Shypitka is less than enthusiastic about the change, but resigned to it.
“It’s a fairly radical shift,” Shypitka said. “There are a lot of economic, social and cultural ties between Cranbrook and just outside the boundary of Cranbrook, obviously — a lot of residents that live in Cranbrook that have businesses outside of Cranbrook, for example, and vice versa.
“We also have those social issues like the Cranbrook Rowing Club at Jim Smith. They’re going to be alienated now. We’ve got Elizabeth Lake that’s now outside the riding, but those water flows directly affect those residents in Cranbrook. That’s major.
“The Colombo Lodge has been around for 100 years, and all those members live in Cranbrook, but when they go to get Gaming grants and all those things, they’ll have to go to Doug Clovechok. Which is fine, but it really does isolate a lot of people. Honestly, they’re on a bit of an island, so to speak.
“I have to cross Columbia River-Revelstoke to get to people in Moyie, Clovechok’s got to go through Cranbrook to get to his constituents on Jim Smith Lake Road.”
Shypitka anticipates a period of confusion while all these details work themselves out. How will voting days take place for those in Cranbrook areas of Columbia River-Revelstoke, for example?
“Where are they going to vote?” Shypitka asked, rhetorically. “There are no public buildings that can be a voting booth outside of Cranbrook, so one would have to think the next closest polling station would be Kimberley.
“How much confusion would that make for, say if you have the Prestige Hotel [as a voting place], and one vote is for Kootenay Rockies … one booth for Columbia River-Revelstoke.
“It’s going to be confusing. We’re going to have to educate people. I know people will be well-served with Doug — there’s no problem there — but there are a lot of people who are actually quite upset about it.”
However, it is what it is, as they say.
“That’s life, right? It happens every two election cycles where the Commission will do its work,” Shypitka said. “If you look back on the history of Kootenay East, it wasn’t always Kootenay East, it’s had different names, different demographics …”
Still, Shypitka believes there were other options for a redrawing, that would have made more sense.
“The thing is, I made a presentation to the Commission, a very good plan on how to account for the same amount of population and not create this kind of confusion,” he said. “That plan was essentially just to extend the Columbia River valley into Fort Steele, the Horseshoe Lake area, and even dip into Wardner and take Wardner out. That would have been probably been the most sensible plan. It would have made sense for Doug, for travel, for the culture and social distancing challenges we seeing now.
“It was a very good plan. I didn’t just draw it on the back of a napkin. A lot of research went into it. Obviously the Commission didn’t go for it.”
MLA Clovechok thinks by and large the Commission did a good job with the task at hand.
“They’ve added six new ridings, mostly in the Lower Mainland, one in the Kelowna area, and one in Kamloops. What’s really important for us, and I was thrilled to see it, is that we were really concerned that we would lose one of the four rural ridings in our area, and we didn’t. So they recognized that the effective representation is important — not just representation by population.
“It certainly wasn’t an easy job, and I want to thank those commissioners for all the work they put into it,” Clovechok said. “But more importantly, [I want to thank] all the people that came out. Lots came out in both ridings and let them know what we were thinking.
“Without that voice, things might have been different. They listened to everyone who came out.
“Sometimes in rural B.C. we’ve got to fight like dogs to get what we deserve.”