North Burnaby-Seymour riding confirmed

DESPITE having little in common demographically or geographically, residents in the Seymour area and North Burnaby will be voting in the same riding and represented by the same MP in the next federal election.

That is the result of a decision by the federal electoral boundaries commission to merge the two areas while creating a third North Shore riding to make sure the population is adequately represented in the House of Commons.

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Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, every district should have a population of about 105,000 residents according to census data tracked every 10 years. But North Vancouver and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country together were underrepresented in Parliament by about 70,000 people.

Under the new borders, everyone east of the Seymour River on the North Shore, plus residents in a swath of land that curves along Lynn Creek south of Highway 1 will join with voters north of Lougheed Highway between Boundary Road and Burnaby's eastern city limits in a new riding called Burnaby North-Seymour. As part of the same redraw, Powell River has been hived off of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country and stitched in with Vancouver Island North.

The decision comes as a disappointment to Burnaby-Douglas New Democrat MP, Kennedy Stewart, who appealed the commission's proposal.

Stewart polled residents on both sides of the inlet and found 80 per cent of residents opposed the merger. He also won the support of Parliament's standing committee on procedure and house affairs, which is made up of seven Conservatives, one Liberal and four New Democrats. The committee included in its report on the proposal that North Vancouver and North Burnaby "share few common services or exchanges," and "the communities themselves also appear to have little desire, if any, to be tied in one electoral district."

Stewart said the commission could have considered other options for redrawing the electoral map, but it was simply "bullheaded" and didn't listen.

Of particular concern for Stewart is the difficulty constituents will have getting to their MP's office, especially if they are elderly or disabled and relying on transit.

"There's only enough money for one community office for an MP and that's either in North Vancouver or North Burnaby," he said. "What it means is those who rely on transit will have much less access to an MP's office.. .. Perhaps it would have been good for (the commission members) to take a bus ride from North Vancouver to North Burnaby and see for themselves how easy it is to make that trip."

There's also the matter of the people on both sides of the inlet having little in common, with the North Shore's population being generally more wealthy, conservative and white, Stewart said.

"They're very different communities. Look at the housing markets. Look at the levels of education. Look at the ethnic demographics. It's very, very different," he said.

According to his own calculations, had the 2009 election been run with the new boundaries, Stewart would have lost his seat to a Conservative challenger by five points, compared to the two-point advantage he won by.

But Stewart's grievances and those brought up at public hearings on the merger were taken into account when creating Burnaby North-Seymour, the commission argued.

"The commission is not insensible to the dissatisfaction of a number of MPs and constituents with portions of the North Vancouver and Burnaby-Douglas districts being joined in a newly configured district," the commission stated in its final report.

Access to an MP in a riding cut in half by the Burrard Inlet will still be much easier than it will be for constituents in the North and in the Interior, who sometimes are separated from their MPs by hundreds of kilometres.

"Moreover, there is a measure of common interest between the two components of the reconfigured Burnaby North-Seymour district because they front on Burrard Inlet, a working harbour," the report states.

"In the end, all we can say concerning this reconfigured electoral district is that the commissioners have spent much time and thought on what to do in this area, having regard to our mandate of doing the best we can province-wide. We have listened with sympathy and appreciation to the cogently expressed objections to this reconfiguration from several sources, but we are ultimately unable to arrive at any disposition that we consider to be a better one."

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