B.C. VIEWS: Rural voters maintain edge

Rural B.C. isn't just the source of most of the province's resources

VICTORIA – There aren’t too many benefits to living in B.C.’s vast hinterlands, compared to the southwest where three quarters of B.C. residents reside.

A few advantages of rural life spring to mind: it’s quieter, traffic jams are fewer and shorter, and real estate prices are more reasonable.

Another advantage is little noticed, but significant just the same. Rural voters have more clout than their urban counterparts. There can be as many as three times the number of voters in a Metro Vancouver constituency as in one of the remote northern seats, but each gets one MLA.

That advantage was reinforced during the 2008 electoral boundary redistribution, when the B.C. Liberal government decided not to eliminate rural seats – a move recommended by an independent commission to equalize representation in the B.C. legislature. Instead, both the B.C. Liberals and the NDP supported adding six extra seats, in the Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland, Okanagan and Southern Vancouver Island. That narrowed the gap, but the other regions remain over-represented in Victoria.

The B.C. Liberal Party has now moved to match this rural clout in its own leadership vote, set for Feb. 26. At a weekend convention, party delegates voted almost unanimously to get rid of the one member-one vote system that put Vancouverite Gordon Campbell into the leadership 17 years ago.

The new weighted voting system ensures that constituencies with small memberships have the same influence in the leadership contest as those who have signed up thousands of new members in urban areas. A rural member’s vote might be up to 10 times as powerful as one in Surrey, where many new members have been signed up.

As one delegate pointed out, this isn’t strictly a rural-urban thing. In NDP strongholds such as East Vancouver or Nanaimo, there are large populations but only a hardy little band of B.C. Liberal stalwarts maintaining membership in a constituency the party has little chance of winning.

There wasn’t much grumbling about this decision. Most B.C. Liberals agreed with the candidates that sticking with a one member-one vote system would mean only urban candidates have a chance of leading the party.

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett was one of those advocating the change to weighted voting, before his noisy expulsion from the B.C. Liberal cabinet and caucus last fall. Still a faithful party member, Bennett urged delegates to adopt the new system, partly because it gives the party “a huge advantage” over the NDP.

The NDP is selecting its next leader in April, using the one member-one vote system for the first time. NDP leadership candidates have also signed up thousands of new members, most of them from urban constituencies.

The NDP now risks becoming the party of the urban poor, and that’s not a recipe for success.

Some rural voters will remember that Glen Clark made his first visit to Prince George only after he became premier. He spoke about how pleased he was to finally visit the north, apparently unaware that he had only reached the middle of the province, with the north still to come.

Carole James worked hard for seven years as leader to make the NDP reach out beyond its traditional power base. She was rewarded in 2005 with seats regained in the North Coast, Kootenays and Cariboo as well as traditional areas of strength.

It won’t be easy for an urban-dominated NDP to retain these far-flung constituencies, much less add to their current seats and form a majority government.

The B.C. Liberals have gone a long way to holding their rural-urban coalition together.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

Merry Makers create new craft fair for Port Alberni

Hansen Hall fair begins as Work of Heart organizers retire

Port Alberni highland dancers invited to North American competition

Kali Nahorney received honourable mention medals in two categories

Government looks for public input on Cathedral Grove safety concerns

Port Alberni, Parksville info sessions invite public to help ‘shape future access’

ARTS AROUND: Enjoy magic and comedy at the Capitol Theatre

Transport yourself back in time for the McLean Mill Christmas Market

People flocking to Vancouver Island city to see hundreds of sea lions

Each year the combination of Steller and California sea lions take over Cowichan Bay

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh weighs in on Vancouver Island fishing ban

Singh and MacGregor say improving salmon abundance is important

Feds respond to sexual assault investigation at B.C. naval base

Report of Oct. 5 sexual assault on Vancouver Island base taken over by Canadian Forces National Investigation Service

EU divorce deal in peril after two UK Cabinet ministers quit

Negotiators from Britain and the European Union have struck a proposed divorce deal that will be presented to politicians on both sides for approval, officials in London and Brussels said Tuesday.

Northern California fire death toll at 56; 130 missing

Many of the missing are elderly and from Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 to the north of Paradise.

Canfor to buy 70 per cent stake in Swedish Vida Group for $580 million

The privately held company has nine sawmills in southern Sweden with an annual production capacity of 1.1 billion board feet.

Saudi prosecutor seeks death penalty in Khashoggi’s killing

Saudi Arabia’s top prosecutor is recommending the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

Mixing business and family: Trudeau turns to Singapore ancestors to widen trade

Trudeau’s ancestor, Esther Bernard, born Farquhar (1796-1838) was the daughter of Major-General William Farquhar (1774-1839), the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore.

Baloney Meter: Will tougher penalties for gang members make Canada safer?

Since 2013, gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled

Most Read