The Peace River-Westlock riding, represented by MP Arnold Viersen is getting larger, thanks to the work of a commission.

On July 20, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Alberta concluded its work of redrawing the province’s electoral map.

The commission worked to set boundaries so each electoral district contains roughly the same number of people, while also taking into account communities of interest or identity, historical patterns and geographic size in sparsely populated areas.

The commission also proposed names for each district.

One result is Viersen’s riding has gained a big chunk of northwestern Alberta, plus a little population, at the expense of Chris Warkentin’s Grande Prairie-Mackenzie riding. The new arrangement is lopsided in geographical terms, but the population of the two neighbour ridings will be closer to balanced. Warkentin’s riding is now just called ‘Grande Prairie.’

Prior to the change, Grande Prairie-Mackenzie had about 85,000 electors (as of 2019) and PR-Westlock roughly 73,000.

With the change, PR-Westlock gains High Level, Rainbow Lake and any other communities in the extreme northwest of the province. Grande Prairie-Mackenzie’s boundaries stay the same on three sides (south, west and east); its northern boundary is now the 58th parallel, instead of the 60th.

The commission’s report was tabled in the House of Commons on July 19. It’s expected the proposed changes will become official in September of this year.

Viersen spoke about the name and boundary changes at a standing committee meeting back in March:
“It seemed to make sense,” he said. “The ridings are called Peace River (actually Peace River-Westlock) and Grande Prairie, and typically, folks who live in the particular ridings would like to be associated with the respective name. Grande Prairie is a distinct community, and Peace River is more of a geographical area in the Peace River basin. We call it the Peace Country. It would be nice to keep folks who are associated with Grande Prairie in the Grande Prairie riding.

“For example, I live about a four-hour drive from Grande Prairie. If I were going to Bezanson, Debolt, Crooked Creek, Sexsmith, Beaverlodge, Wembley or La Glace – all or any of those communities – I would just say, ‘I’m going to Grande Prairie on the weekend,’ even if I were not going to the actual city of Grande Prairie but to that general region.

“Now, if you were going to High Level, you’d say, ‘I’m going to High Level.’ Folks from High Level have to pass through the town of Peace River. They have an association with the Peace River that would keep it respective; it is about the name in that respect.

“The other thing is just around the folks who are still struggling to adjust. People vote in the same place for a long time. I get a lot of complaints like, ‘Hey, I’ve always voted here, so why do I have to vote there now?’ That continues to be a challenge. When we mess around with the boundaries, people end up having to vote in new places. That causes confusion.

“I would suggest that we keep the boundaries the same, as much as possible.

Notwithstanding that view, the boundaries are set to change, as noted. In his subsequent comments at the March committee meeting, Viersen seemed to think that was okay.

“The demographic consequences….. I think are fine. There’s no domino effect. It’s just the two big ridings in northern Alberta that are changing. I have talked to colleagues in the area, and that seems to be fine.”

Northern Alberta federal electoral divisions as they exist: upper centre is Peace River-Westlock and upper left is Grande Prairie-Mackenzie.
The proposed new federal electoral boundaries, with Peace River-Westlock notably larger.
Images courtesy of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission

by Leader staff