Census numbers tell a discouraging tale for NDP-held ridings
Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2007
VICTORIA - The latest population figures for B.C. hit some New Democratic party members of the legislature where they live -- quite literally.
Charlie Wyse, Opposition member for Cariboo South, led off a series of comments the day after Statistics Canada put out the current census snapshot.
"This government is doing nothing to encourage families to stay in our communities or to settle there in the first place," Wyse complained.
His riding includes Williams Lake, which recorded a 3.7-per-cent drop in population between 2001 and 2006, according to the census. It's also home to Clinton (-8.4 per cent), Ashcroft (-8.3), and Cache Creek (-1.8).
Next on his feet was Bob Simpson, from the neighbouring riding of Cariboo North.
The big centre in his community, Quesnel, saw a 7.1-per-cent population decline over the five years and, as Simpson underscored, there's good reason to fear the trend will continue.
The forest industry, mainstay employer for many Interior communities, is under siege from the pine beetle infestation.
"In my community, the annual allowable cut right now is 5.3 million cubic metres," he advised the house. "The council of forest industries says it may go down as low as less than 500,000 cubic metres." The largest of 10 mills in his riding consumes three times as much wood as that all by itself, Simpson noted.
Then it was Robin Austin, whose Skeena riding includes both Kitimat (-12.6) and Terrace (-6.5).
He rattled off a string of government-induced service reductions and office closures, all of them depriving his communities of "valuable jobs that we needed most."
Harry Lali picked up the theme in the next day's question period. He sought a government-appointed facilitator to help Lillooet (-15.2), one of several troubled communities in his Yale-Lillooet constituency. Others are Lytton (-26.3), Merritt (-1.3), and Logan Lake (-1.1).
The responses from the government side were about what you'd expect. Booming economy. Record low unemployment. Opposition interested only in government jobs, not private sector ones.
Plus some communities may not be as deprived as the federal numbers suggest. The provincial statistical agency paints a brighter picture of Prince George, as that city's Citizen newspaper reported this week.
StatsCan has the city population declining by two per cent between 2001 and 2006. BC Stats says no, it grew by the same percentage.
The difference -- about 7,000 people -- was attributed to different statistical methods, census filings by people who neglected to say where they lived, and other factors.
But presuming the undercount (or overcount) is evenly distributed across the province, the census figures nevertheless suggest that there are more declining communities represented by New Democrats than by B.C. Liberals.
North Coast MLA Gary Coons has Stewart (-25), Port Clements (-14.7) Prince Rupert (-12.5), Port Edward (-12.4) and Queen Charlotte City (-9.3).
For New Democrat Claire Trevena, her North Island constituency includes Tahsis (-39), Port Alice (-27.1), Port Hardy (-16.4), Zeballos (-15.6), Sayward (-10), Port McNeill (-7.0) and Alert Bay (-4.6).
Norm Macdonald, Columbia River-Revelstoke: Canal Flats (-7.2), Golden (-5.2), Kimberley (-5.3) and Revelstoke (-3.6).
Katrine Conroy, West Kootenay-Boundary: Rossland (-10.1), Greenwood (-6.2), Montrose (-5.2), Trail (-4.5), Castlegar (-4.3) and Midway (-2.7).
Corky Evans, Nelson-Creston: Silverton (-16.7), Nakusp (-10.2), Salmo (-10.1) and Slocan (-6.5).
Scott Fraser, Alberni-Qualicum: Ucluelet (-4.6) and Port Alberni (-1.1).
By comparison, ridings held by the B.C. Liberals included a smaller number -- about half as many -- of communities recording a population decline.
Most were confined to the home ground of just three government backbenchers: Bill Bennett (East Kootenay), Dennis MacKay (Bulkley Valley-Stikine) and John Rustad (Prince George-Omineca.)
Many (though certainly not all) of the fastest-growing communities were in Liberal ridings.
Communities that are doing well are more inclined to vote for the government. Those feeling left out of the boom will lean toward the Opposition.
But the distribution of growing and declining communities could have consequences for future elections.
An independent commission is already drawing up a new set of constituency boundaries to recognize the changes in provincial population.
It has already identified the areas that were most likely to gain representation and those that were most likely to lose it, based on preliminary census data.
Eight of the 10 fastest-growing constituencies are currently represented by B.C. Liberals. Six of the 10 slow-growth ones are in the NDP column.
The latest census figures, reinforcing the earlier trend, point to more potential gains from electoral redistribution for the Liberals than for the NDP.