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Battleground BC

Not All Ridings Created Equal (in Population)

And that makes it hard for pollsters.

By Will McMartin, 30 Mar 2005,

British Columbia’s 79 electoral districts are supposed to be ‘equal’ in terms of population, but there are significant differences between ridings, and between regions. It is a factor that makes it difficult for pollsters conducting province-wide, or even regional, public opinion surveys to estimate seat-totals for the various political parties.

The electoral boundaries for the 2001 and 2005 general elections were determined using population figures from the 1996 Canada census. B.C.’s population that year was counted at slightly more than 3.7 million; since then it has grown by about half a million to 4.2 million.

The last Electoral Boundaries Commission, which made its final report to the legislature in June 1999, recommended that the Legislative Assembly should have 79 seats, an increase of four over the figure used in 1991 and 1996.

The commission then took the province’s 1996 population and divided by 79 to arrive at the ‘electoral quota’ of 47,146 residents per district. A deviation of 25% plus-or-minus from the quota is permitted, meaning that B.C.’s ridings were allowed as many as 58,933 residents, or as few as 35,359.

But the commissioners were concerned that several seats in northern B.C. and the Kootenays would disappear if the quota was rigidly enforced. They therefore exempted five ridings in the North — Bulkley Valley-Stikine, Skeena, North Coast, Peace River North and Peace River South — as well as Rossland Trail, from the electoral quota, allowing each to have a population of less than 35,359.

As a result, despite the constitutional requirement that British Columbia’s electoral districts be "equal" in population, the biggest riding in the 2001 general election — North Island, with 57,050 residents — was nearly twice the size of the smallest — Peace River South, at 30,950. Those numbers, of course, were based on the 1996 census.

The same electoral boundaries will be used in the 2005 general election, although regions such as the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan have enjoyed considerable population growth over the past decade. Meanwhile, the population of many ridings, especially those in the North, actually declined between the 1996 and 2001 censuses, and likely has continued to fall since then. The 2001 census shows that North Island, the largest riding in terms of population in 1996, fell to 29th five years later. Vancouver-Burrard, which had 53,000 residents in 1996, grew to 64,046 in 2001, thereby becoming B.C.’s largest electoral district.

Peace River South, at 30,950, was the smallest riding in 1996; North Coast, 27,992, was the smallest in 2001.

Below are B.C.’s 10 largest and 10 smallest ridings in terms of population, according to the 2001 census.

TABLE -- Ten largest-population ridings

  • Vancouver-Burrard — 64,046
  • Port Moody-Westwood — 61,637
  • Surrey-Tynehead — 59,081
  • Maple Ridge-Mission — 56,951
  • Okanagan-Vernon — 56,926
  • Fort Langley-Aldergrove — 56,872
  • Richmond Centre — 56,792
  • Vancouver-Hastings — 56,683
  • Vancouver-Point Grey — 56,376
  • Kelowna-Lake Country — 56,372

TABLE -- Ten smallest-population ridings

  • Cariboo North — 37,209
  • Yale-Lillooet — 37,197
  • Prince George North — 36,696
  • Prince George-Mount Robson — 35,741
  • Cariboo South — 35,678
  • Columbia River-Revelstoke — 33,005
  • Peace River North — 32,353
  • Skeena — 32,021
  • Bulkley Valley-Stikine — 31,728
  • Peace River South — 28,097
  • North Coast — 27,992

Check in daily for Battleground BC, Will McMartin’s voting predictions and analysis, exclusive to The Tyee.  [Tyee]