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VIEW: BC Lib gov't is stacking the deck against urban regions

A built-in bias, constitutionally enabled, is going to get worse, skewing the politics of this province and loading the dice against the interests of the urban regions of B.C., unless our voices are raised -- and soon. By the time the consequences become clear, it may be too late.

B.C. has passed legislation that will effectively ensure transit, homelessness, and arts and culture will get lower priority from our provincial government, regardless of who leads it.* The legislation -- the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act -- instructs a new commission to do something the Supreme Court says is illegal.

Currently rural ridings in British Columbia can have 50 per cent less people than urban ridings. New legislation could skew this even further. For example, there are 20,000 people in Stikine and 70,000 people in Surrey-Cloverdale, but they each have one MLA. This means some people have three and a half times the political representation of some other people based on where they live. Put another way, things that are important to urban people like affordable housing, services for mentally ill and a healthy transit system are up to three and a half times less important to a government whose base is more rural and small town.

A member for Stikine may make the point that his or her riding is the size of a small country. On the other hand, almost 90 per cent of the population in the riding lives along a 230-kilometre highway; over 99 per cent of the territory has no people at all. Improved technology makes it much easier to connect with remote constituents, but just because urban people live close to each other doesn't mean they are easy to reach; there are often more significant barriers like language and culture.

Rural MLAs may deserve a bigger budget for travel and staff. They do not deserve three times the votes.

When Gordon Campbell was mayor of Vancouver he took the provincial government to court over the issue; when he was premier he reversed his position. Something happens to Metro politicians when they cross the water to Victoria. But Campbell's first instinct was the correct one: no group loses more out of the current situation than Metro Vancouver.

Consider the situation with respect to transportation: our region has been asking provincial governments for years -- both NDP and Liberals -- for permission to tax only its voters more to pay for more transit, local roads and bridges. But as provincial taxpayers, we not only contribute to the cost of British Columbia's highway infrastructure but to the transit systems run by B.C. Transit in places like Kelowna.

No one in Metro Vancouver where I reside is complaining about that. We do not expect to get more dollars from Kelowna to pay for TransLink operations. But we are being put through extraordinary measures without assurance that the economic engine of this province, with the greatest concentration and growth of jobs, will continue to prosper and be able to determine the way it wishes to develop.

If every voter was equal regardless of where they live, would we even be having a referendum?

Surely the disparity in our political weight due to the diminishment of our voting power plays a part -- a discrepancy that could become even more magnified, locked into the constitutional structure of the province, unless the urban voters and their representatives actively make the case for simple fairness.

But we have to act now.

Gordon Price, a former NPA city councillor for Vancouver, is director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. This is republished from his blog, Price Tags, where it appeared on June 17.

*Correction June 24 at 11 a.m.: A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated who supported Bill 2.

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