INNISFAIL/OLDS — Elected officials in the region are either angry or have no comment over proposed electoral riding changes that could see Innisfail and Olds in separate massive-sized ridings that present logistical issues for citizens and MPs, and diminished connections to hard earned business relationships along the Highway 2 corridor.
The proposed changes for Innisfail, for example, will see the town tucked near the northwest corner of a redrawn Bow River riding that stretches east to the Saskatchewan border and south to near Lethbridge.
“It doesn't make any sense based on who our neighbours are, who we do trade with, who we collaborate with,” said Innisfail mayor Jean Barclay, adding there will be a public hearing on Sept. 21 in Red Deer about the plan, as well as discussions with town council as well. “This doesn't sit well with me.”
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Alberta (FEBCA) is proposing three new federal ridings to add to the province’s current 34 electoral districts. Innisfail and Bowden are planned to be part of the huge Bow River riding.
“I am concerned,” said Bowden mayor Robb Stuart, conceding to the Albertan on June 16 he had not yet looked at the plan. “I think Innisfail and Bowden and Red Deer County are all concerned about it. Whether it be for better or worse I don’t know.
“As I get more information, it will come to council and we’ll draft a letter in either support or voicing our concerns.”
The plan, which was released this month, also has Olds, Didsbury, Carstairs and Cremona moving into the new riding of Canmore-Cochrane-Olds.
Judy Dahl, mayor of Olds, said in an email response the plan was “unknown news” to her and she did not have time yet to reflect on it. However, Dahl added she was “certain” mayors in the current riding will speak to the plan in the near future.
The proposal for Penhold and Delburne is to be part of a single Red Deer riding, which was split in 2012 to become Red Deer-Mountain View in the south and Red Deer-Lacombe in the north.
Red Deer-Mountain View is represented by Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen, while Blaine Calkins is the Conservative MP for Red Deer-Lacombe. In the 2021 federal election Dreeshen won his fifth consecutive election and third in the Red Deer-Mountain View riding.
“I have known the people, not just represented the people as a member of parliament, my entire life and I hope we can come up with a solution to this,” said Dreeshen. “It looked to me as though there’s just a number of people that they took and said, ‘hey, here’s how we can get them out of this riding easiest and we’ll make that happen and bring it all the way down south, like south and east about as far as you can go on a tank of gas.
“I would prefer that we can come up with a solution that would work,” he said, adding he will keep a watchful eye on potential developments over the next few months. “I know we will be discussing this with community leaders. There will be lots more discussion.”
Barclay said she has already sent correspondence to Dreeshen, and to political representatives in both Bowden and Red Deer County about the plan.
She said a big problem with the proposal is that the proposed size of the redrawn Bow River is “so huge” that a potential new MP from the southern part may not have the necessary knowledge of the area, particularly the Edmonton to Calgary corridor, and its vital importance to Innisfail.
“Just the travel itself would be would be quite a barrier,” said Barclay. “We know who we have our relationships with and they're within the Central Alberta region along the QE II corridor.
“Obviously, we do a lot of trade with Red Deer and surrounding communities and we have our own economy here and we need advocacy on behalf of us at the federal level,” she added. “So, it's important that somehow these (planned) riding boundaries get changed.”
Jim Wood, mayor of Red Deer County, said his first reaction to the plan was “not positive” and that his municipality will be taking a “hard look” at it from now and through the upcoming public consultation process.
“Our council had a brief discussion on it today. We will review this document. We will make comment as we need to, to make sure that our residents are represented the best they can be federally,” said Wood. “Quite often these boundaries are not always the way that they're first proposed, (and) the way they end up.
“I do understand they're trying to make things equal. But sometimes just drawing a line on the map doesn't in fact make logical sense for trading areas where people will actually work or they go to school, or any of the other historical factors that pertain to an area that would be important for a representative to know.”
There is an Aug.15 FEBCA deadline to comment on the proposed riding changes, with a hearing planned for Olds on Sept. 21 at 1 p.m. at the Pomeroy Inn.