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

Fraser Valley fire departments form ‘strike teams’ to combat wildfires

Boston Bar, Chilliwack River Valley and Popkum departments form strike teams to fight wildfires

RCMP nab prolific car thief in Agassiz after month-long search

A province-wide warrant was issued for Brian Robert Stephan in June for a litany of offences

Take-home naloxone may be replacing 911 calls in parts of Lower Mainland

Naloxone kits handed out up 29% over 2017, ambulance calls and emergency visits down 22-24%, deaths hold steady

New riverfront path under development

A path suitable for mobility scooters, pedestrians, cyclists and baby strollers

UPDATE: Anonymous tip leads DFO night patrol to Fraser River poachers

Charges pending after poachers arrested at night while fishing, 48 sockeye, harbour seal seized

PHOTOS: B.C. city wakes up to darkness under wildfire smoke

The rest of the province also dealing with thick haze as smoky skies continue

VIDEO: World of Magic coming to Vancouver

Seven magic shows will appear at the Vancouver Playhouse from September 7 to 9

Safeway union urges prejection of mediator recommendations

Says mediator asks for too many concessions

Fire chases B.C. crews out of their own camp

Crews in Burns Lake had to leave after a wildfire reportedly overtook their sleeping quarters

To address peacock problem, B.C. city moves ahead on trapping plan

Surrey’s new bylaw focuses on ensuring people no longer feed the birds, ahead of relocation

VIDEO: RibFest kicks off in Langley

Free event features barbecue ribs, chicken, pork and brisket from Canada’s top rib artists

Hospitals to see ‘delays’ in care after losing Saudi students, health group says

About 1,000 Saudi residents called back to kingdom after suspending diplomatic relations with Canada

Bernier diatribe against ‘extreme multiculturalism’ boosts Liberal coffers

Party spokesperson Braeden Caley says online donations doubled, social media engagement quadrupled

‘Disjointed’ system hinders British Columbia First Nations in wildfire fight

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning

Most Read