If changes to the federal electoral boundaries go ahead, Penticton would be split in two down Main Street and Penticton’s mayor didn’t mince words when he called it ‘the dumbest thing’ he’s seen.
Among the changes put forward are renaming the Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola riding as the Coquihalla riding, removing Keremeos and the south Similkameen from the riding.
This split would include everything west of Main Street Penticton, such as the West Bench area and the Penticton Indian Band land.
Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki called the proposal “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life, to split a city like ours.”
Due to changes in population according to the 2021 census, a new riding in the Interior is being created, which has caused a ripple effect impacting existing ridings, such as the South Okanagan – West Kootenay and the proposed Coquihalla riding.
The mayor and city council of Penticton have written a letter to the Electoral Commission regarding their opposition, and coun. James Miller read the letter aloud at the public meeting on June 13 regarding the changes.
Potential confusion from residents about which riding they belong to and who to vote for was just one concern that Vassilaki expressed.
Letters from the Penticton Indian Band and Lower Similkameen Indian Band have also reportedly been sent expressing their wishes to remain connected to the communities in their current ridings.
The carving up of the Similkameen has also raised concerns among the municipalities in the Valley. Letters regarding the proposed changes were sent from the municipalities of both Princeton and Keremeos.
“The Similkameen should stay one entity politically, because we have all the services within the RDOS and on the provincial level, and health care and the school district, so it makes no sense to split us off,” said Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer.
The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen also sent a letter airing their concerns over splitting up the valley and formally requesting that the boundaries be reconsidered to keep the region together.
“As a region, the Similkameen shares the same history and acts as one community including their two First Nation bands, the Lower and the Upper Similkameen Indian Band,” reads part of the letter. “The Similkameen Valley Planning Society provides a platform for all the governments in the valley to promote the valley as a cohesive unit and encourage economic development and job creation on a regional level.”
Reached for comment, MP Dan Albas, who represents the Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, stated that he had faith in the electoral boundary commission to do their impartial work, and that he had mailed out information to constituents as well as created an MP report for the commission.
“You know, the last time this happened was after the 2011 census, where Summerland and Penticton were split for the first time since confederation,” said Albas.
MP Richard Cannings, who represents the South Okanagan – West Kootenay riding which includes Penticton, was less reserved with expressing some of his concerns about the initial proposal from the commission.
“I think in this case they might have been looking at balancing the numbers a bit too closely and not initially taking into account some of the community and social impact that this will have,” he said.
He expressed his hopes that there could be other adjustments elsewhere in the ridings that could be made to avoid the more dramatic shift in Penticton proper.
“I’ve talked to the mayor, I’ve talked to councillors, I’ve talked to the Penticton Indian Band, I’ve talked to various other groups and nobody likes this,” he said. “I’m hoping that those voices will be heard.”
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