Voters in Burnaby, Okanagan set to see change with new proposed federal election districts

UBC political scientist Gerald Baier weighs in on the moves.

electoral districts

B.C. is set to welcome a new riding in the Okanagan area in the next federal election

UBC political scientist Gerald Baier weighs in on the moves

Adding a new electoral district in a province is sort of like playing Tetris: each addition has deep-reaching implications. Every 10 years, electoral district boundaries are reconsidered and, thanks to the growing population in the province, a 43rd riding was mandated this year for B.C. 

The three-person commission (Supreme Court Justice Mary Saunders, as well as electoral experts Ken Carty and Stewart Ladyman) proposed the creation of a new electoral district in the Southern Interior between Vernon and Kelowna, to be called Vernon-Lake Country. The riding will emerge from what is now North Okanagan-Shuswap and Kelowna-Lake Country.

Sure, it would be nice if they could just call it a day after that. But because those two constituencies and their populations will be affected by the move, other changes must occur as well, creating a situation where many ridings across the province have to be altered. 

“I wouldn’t call it just an extra riding for the Interior or the Okanagan,” says Gerald Baier, associate professor in UBC’s political science department. “It’s a big jigsaw puzzle, but it’s not just an additional Conservative seat, as some are suggesting—it doesn’t work that way.” 

Baier notes that ridings like Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon (it would be renamed Mission-Maple Ridge in the proposal) would change quite a bit, possibly altering the ideological makeup. 

Another area that might look a little different at the ballot box is Burnaby. In the proposal, the suburb is split into six constituencies. 


“It’s a consequence of a lot of density in the Lower Mainland and trying to fit populations in some of the categories we use,” explains Baier. “It seems a little odd, Burnaby is a bit of a victim of the process here.” 

But there’s some potential upside with that designation, too. “If you’re looking for federal funding or support, you have six different avenues. That could be an advantage for the city.”

Despite some slight wonkiness, Baier says he has “utter confidence” in the three-person panel and the impossible job they have of predicting the future. 

“They’re trying to think ahead,” he says. “This only happens every 10 years—that’s a long time in how [ridings] move and change. Vancouver Granville was a new riding last time—it’s already had to change.”

In the end, the redrawn boundaries likely won’t add much excitement to election night. “You couldn’t write the circumstances better for B.C. to actually be in a position to make a difference, but even then it doesn’t matter,” says Baier about the fact that federal election races are typically called long before all the votes are counted in B.C.

Can next time around be different? Baier isn’t getting his hopes up. “We’re one of the rare provinces where there are three and four-way races at times, and there’s a lot of flux in the province too, with the NDP making gains. All the circumstances should be there, but still it usually doesn’t matter.”

The commission is holding 27 public hearings, in person and virtual, to gather comments and feedback on the proposed boundaries and electoral district names.