Shields may no longer be MP for Taber come next election

·6 min read

As the population within Canada grows, committees reevaluate federal voting districts to ensure everyone is properly represented across the country. The most recent plans for these voting districts have the town of Taber leaving the Bow River riding.

“Every 10 years they look at the population and every province they set up has a boundary committee,” said Shields. “Alberta has a boundaries commission, so every province has it, and every province has started the process of looking at the population, looking at where they may need to adjust it. Decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled that ridings couldn’t be different more than plus or minus 25 per cent. Every commission and each province can determine their plus or minus for what they want to sit in their particular province. Alberta‘s boundaries commission has set it at plus or minus five per cent, that can’t be any different than that.”

Shields continued by discussing where people can give input on the new voting districts and when they will be coming into effect.

“They drew maps based on that and those are the maps that are out. Now, they’re looking for feedback on that map they’ve put out there, and there are going to be hearings that people can go to in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Calgary, and Drumheller in this area, but they are going to have hearings where you can go, and talk to the commission about what you think of the boundaries. You can also send in what you think should be done, or whether you agree with it, or maybe just adjustments you want to see. Once they get all that feedback, they will then take a look at the boundaries, and see if they want to change them based on the feedback they’ve received. It takes quite a bit of time to do all of this because they’ve worked almost a year to get the draft-up maps that we see now. They started working a year ago, and that’s happening staggered all across the country — Ontario maps just came out last week, whereas Alberta’s map has been out there for a few months. The timeline for this to be totally done is set by Elections Canada for April of 2024. If an election is called before April of 24, it goes by the old boundaries. If this gets totally done by April of 24 and an election is then called after that, we’ll go by the new boundaries.”

Shields then discussed why the Bow River riding was changed in particular and what it may look like in the future if approved.

“In this particular riding, there was a large population base right beside Calgary called Chestermere,” said Shields. “In that area of Chestermere, there are about 30,000 people, so they pull that into a new riding. Alberta got three new ridings, two in the Calgary area and one in Edmonton. Those people in the Chestermere riding, so if you take that many people out of the Bow River, they’re looking how do we get it to that sort of plus or minus five per cent. They did it by extending it, but they also pulled something out of it — the Town of Taber. They used the Old Man River as the boundary, so anything south of the Old Man River went in this area to the Medicine Hat riding, but the Bow River riding expanded to the north and to the east. It goes up to Innisfail, just south of Red Deer, and it goes over to Oyen to the Saskatchewan border. They enlarged the size of it significantly to try and make up for the 30,000 people that went into that new riding, and Taber came out of it and that’s just in the south end, but the M.D. of Taber is split because the Old Man River, as you realize is just north of Taber here.”

Afterwards, Shields discussed some of the problems that rural MPs face due to the size of their ridings compared to city MPs.

“I would prefer if Taber were to stay in it and the M.D. in Taber stay whole, and when I meet with the committee, I will make some suggestions of how they can keep the population sort of in that five plus or minus range, but also talk about rural ridings. If you make them too large with so many communities in it, it becomes very difficult to represent them as compared to city riding of 40 or 50 blocks. If I were to have a riding that went from Innisfail to the other side of the base, or from Bowell to Picture Butte, there are a lot of communities in there. They’ve added probably 15 to 20 communities into this riding if they take out Taber, but they added a whole bunch of smaller ones when they expand it to the north.”

Shields continued this discussion by pointing out some of the impracticality that comes when there is an expectation of him to attend certain holidays throughout the year.

“What I will talk about, for example, is that Remembrance Day is very hard for a rural MP because I get invitations from 15 to 20 communities,” said Shields. “I can only be at one at 11 o’clock on the 11th day. It makes it very difficult to represent a rural community that has gotten larger, and more communities in it makes it very difficult. I would suggest, you know, that five per cent plus or minus applying it to rural constituencies makes it very hard to have representation compared to a city. MPs and cities do a great job, but if it’s a very small area, they don’t have to drive three hours to do it, they don’t even have to drive two hours — they don’t even have to drive out on those roads in the winter if you want to get to the communities. It makes it much more difficult to try and represent when you have that many communities at large. I would suggest that maybe they could be more flexible about what their percentage is, plus or minus.”

Finally, Shields discussed if there was any process to reach out to the new communities that could be in his riding.

“Sure, the Drumheller mayor and I already talked, even though it hasn’t been finalized. Some people think that this is going to happen and so there are already conversations from Drumheller. Those kinds of things will happen, I am familiar with some of those communities already, and I’ve known them in different ways. There are things that I am familiar with a number of those communities if they do, become part of this one (riding) that it will be quickly to start working with them.”

Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times