AS if things weren't bad enough for the NDP these days, it looks like the B.C. Liberals are about to be handed an even bigger advantage come the next election.
The province's electoral map will soon be redrawn, and odds are the addition of new ridings will favour areas that are traditionally B.C. Liberal strongholds.
The changes will mostly reflect the population shifts that have occurred since the last redistribution after the 2005 election. B.C.'s population has grown by more than a half million people since then, and most of the growth has taken place in areas such as the suburbs of Vancouver and the Okanagan.
As a result, it appears several seats will be added to reflect the mushrooming population in places like Richmond, south Surrey, Langley and the Okanagan - all areas that can be considered fairly safe territory for the B.C. Liberals.
The looming changes don't look promising for the NDP. The party is in danger of becoming marginalized because its core areas of strength are not in areas of high population growth (other than New Westminster and north Surrey).
The last election results confined the NDP to the city of Vancouver, a few of its suburbs, most of Vancouver Island, the Kootenays and the coast. It's unlikely the commission will increase the number of seats in those areas. In fact, if the Island gets another seat it will likely be in the Comox Valley region, which has been held for years by the B.C. Liberals.
Of course, the boundaries commission responsible for redrawing the map may also consolidate some ridings that have far fewer people living in them and are not showing big increases in population. These are mostly located in the north and the Kootenays, and any consolidation would likely penalize the B.C. Liberals and the NDP in equal terms.
The commission, of course, needs to be sensitive to the concerns of those who live in remote, rural regions and fear their representation in the legislature could become diluted as the more populous, urban areas get more and more ridings.
This has always been a concern whenever B.C.'s electoral map is altered, and it is one reason why our number of MLAs keeps increasing and not decreasing.
On paper, one can make the argument the tiny Stikine riding in the north, which has just 13,000 registered voters, should be rolled into a neighbouring riding. After all, Surrey-Cloverdale is home to more than four times that number of voters yet both get the same number of MLAs: one.
In fact, it can be argued the two Peace River ridings could be combined (such a riding would have about 43,000 voters, roughly the same as Victoria-Beacon Hill), or that the North Coast, Skeena and Stikine could be consolidated into a single seat (and have the same number of voters as New Westminster).
But reducing the MLA representation in those regions would be met with a huge protest from the communities affected - notably Prince Rupert, Terrace, Fort St. John and Dawson Creek - and so it likely will not happen.
Instead, it's more likely we will continue to add seats into our already overcrowded legislative chamber, which has almost reached the limit in terms of how many desks can fit inside the thing.
Those additional seats will likely be created primarily south of the Fraser River and in the retirement communities of the Okanagan - sources of electoral strength for the B.C. Liberals.
It's also important to note that our ethnic communities, particularly the South Asian communities, are centred in those areas of growth, particularly around the Fraser. To not add seats in those areas would unfairly dilute their political representation over time.
It all adds up to be one more major headache for the NDP, a party that is at a perilous crossroads as it tries to redefine itself as something more palatable to the voters come election time.
That effort may ultimately be doomed however, since the population is growing in areas that have long turned their backs on the party in favour of another one. And that's where any new MLAs will be coming from, thus making it even more difficult for the NDP to win a majority election.
Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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