The future of the Fraser Valley’s provincial ridings

From a new provincial riding in Langley to a complete restructuring of Chilliwack electoral areas, the Electoral Boundary Commission has some big plans for the valley.

By Grace Kennedy | October 24, 2022 |5:00 am

Thousands of new residents now call Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood home—and that means it’s time to change how the community is represented in the BC legislature.At least, that was how BC’s Electoral Area Boundaries Commission felt when it added a whole new provincial riding to the Langley region.

The commission has released its preliminary report on how BC’s provincial ridings should change. The report has been in the works since last fall, when the province appointed a three-member commission to review all 87 of BC’s ridings.

A commission is appointed every two elections, and they usually suggest some changes to how BC’s residents are represented. The goal is always the same: to make sure each riding had a similar population while keeping people within their own communities of interest. (You can read more about the commission in our January story.)

The commission has now issued a preliminary report, which suggested some fairly significant changes for Langley, where an exploding population has created a whole new riding. And the rest of the valley also wasn’t left untouched by the commission’s pen.

Story continues below.

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Langley could be getting an additional riding thanks to the boundary commission’s proposed changes. 📸 Grace Kennedy; Google Maps

Today, when you walk into the BC Legislature, you will find two Langley MLAs: Langley East’s Megan Dykeman and Langley’s Andrew Mercier. Next election, there could be one more joining the crew.

(The ridings of Abbotsford South MLA Bruce Banman and Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong also include sizeable chunks of Langley, although the vast majority of their constituents are Abbotsford residents.)

The Langley riding covers Langley City, as well as southern township neighbourhoods like Brookswood and Campbell Valley. Langley East includes pretty much all the rest of the township, excluding Aldergrove but including the rapidly expanding Willoughby area.

That has made Langley East one of the most populated ridings in the province—and one of the first on the chopping block for those tasked with making new ridings.

The commission was given the power to create six additional ridings (before, the number of electoral areas were capped at 87). Langley’s new riding is one of them. (The remainder are located in Burnaby, Surrey, Langford, Kelowna, and Vancouver.)

In the preliminary report, the commission suggested creating three distinct ridings: Langley-Murrayville, Langley-Aldergrove, and Langley-Willoughby.

Langley-Murrayville would remain fairly consistent with the existing Langley riding, stretching from the City of Langley’s northern border and down to the United States. Likewise, Langley-Aldergrove is similar to Langley East, except it pushes into Abbotsford to capture all of Aldergrove.

Langley-Willoughby is the newcomer. It would essentially extend from the city’s northern border up to the Fraser River, including Willowbrook and Willoughby, as well as part of Walnut Grove. This area has seen significant development in recent years, and will likely continue to have rapid population growth with the arrival of SkyTrain.

The commission said residents wanted a better distinction between rural constituents and suburban ones, presumably so their distinct concerns are better represented in the legislature. If a riding has most of its residents in the city, for example, they are more likely to have their issues heard than the few rural ones. The new riding configuration will, hopefully, alleviate some of those concerns.

With the new riding, all three Langley electoral areas have populations between 50,000 and 60,000 people—giving the region a bit of growing room before the next boundary redrawing two elections from now.

Abbotsford and Mission

Abbotsford-Mission could be significantly smaller thanks to the proposed riding changes. 📸 Grace Kennedy; Google Maps

Langley isn’t the only community that has grown in the last decade. Abbotsford and Maple Ridge are also welcoming more and more new residents—and that (along with the changes to the Langley ridings) means some changes for the ridings there as well.

Specifically, Maple Ridge-Mission (which includes the western third of central Mission) and Abbotsford South both have too many people. That means that some of those residents needed to move to a new riding for the next provincial election.

The commission fixed this by shifting the riding boundaries around. They made Abbotsford South smaller by moving Aldergrove over to Langley. They added more Mission to Abbotsford-Mission.

Significantly, the commission also removed some of Mission’s closest rural neighbours—Dewdney, Deroche, and Lake Errock—from the Abbotsford-Mission riding and sent them to the new Chilliwack North riding. This could have implications for the future of the valley’s current politicians. The NDP typically do better in more urban areas, meaning Abbotsford-Mission’s Pam Alexis may be sitting in a safer seat if these changes go through. Chilliwack’s Dan Coulter, on the other hand, could have a harder time convincing residents north of the Fraser to vote NDP in a new riding—although many of these areas also voted NDP in the last election as part of Chilliwack-Kent.

The commission said it did consider making Mission its own riding—something the community has been requesting for a while now. But giving the community its own seat in the legislature would mean that MLA would only represent roughly 41,000 people, giving voters an outsized voice in the legislature. Instead, Abbotsford-Mission will be centred more around Mission itself, although Maple Ridge-Mission will still have some of the most-western rural areas of the municipality.

Chilliwack and beyond

Chilliwack’s ridings could be shifting, with downtown Chilliwack joining up with more communities to the north. 📸 Grace Kennedy; Google Maps

The biggest changes in Chilliwack actually come from the jettisoning of Kent and Harrison Hot Springs into an Interior-centric riding.

Currently, Harrison and Kent are part of the Chilliwack-Kent riding—an electoral area which stretches from Cultus Lake to Hemlock Valley and beyond. Hope, considered the last stop in the valley or the entrance to the Interior, is part of the Fraser-Nicola riding.

Past electoral boundary commissions have found it difficult to slot Hope into a riding: does it have more in common with its Fraser Valley neighbours or the Interior resource towns? This time, the commission didn’t bother with the Hope identity question and instead looked at population only.

Fraser-Nicola was well below the recommended population for BC ridings and isn’t expected to grow significantly in the next few years. To bring the population up, the commission recommended moving Harrison and Kent into the gigantic rural riding as a way to boost residents without significantly increasing the riding’s size.

The change could be a benefit for the two communities, giving them a stronger voice in the legislature by moving them to a less-populated riding. But it also leaves questions about whether Harrison and Kent have enough in common with places like Lillooet or Gold Bridge. The commission said the change “keeps related communities together.” Local residents will need to decide if that’s true.

To accommodate the loss of Kent and Harrison, the Chilliwack ridings are changing slightly. Chilliwack is being turned into Chilliwack North—a riding that centres on downtown Chilliwack but which also includes Sumas Mountain, Deroche, Dewdney, and Harrison Mills.

By extending the Chilliwack riding north, Chilliwack-Cultus Lake essentially takes the southeastern part of Chilliwack-Kent and turns it into a more Chilliwack-focused riding. It doesn’t extend north of the Fraser, and notably excludes much of Yarrow.

What’s next

The addition of a new Langley riding may seem like the most significant change to the valley in the Electoral Boundary Commission’s preliminary report. But it is in the east where “communities of interest” are being parceled out into new areas.

There is no exact definition of a community of interest—it is simply a tool commissioners use to try and figure out which areas belong together. Typically, it tries to combine people in ridings where they share common lifestyles, similar challenges, and shared hopes. In the legislature, it means MLAs are able to focus on the specific issues that matter to a majority of their constituents.

In Langley, the new ridings divide the region into fairly logical communities. The fast-growing Willoughby has challenges that are different from those in the dense but established Langley City and the sprawling farmland of eastern Langley Township. Similarly, the Abbotsford-Mission configuration is giving Mission residents a stronger voice in their riding, as more of them are being grouped together for the first time in a long time.

In Chilliwack and beyond, however, the divisions are not so clear. Do Harrison and Kent residents have enough in common with the small Interior communities that make up most of the Fraser-Nicola riding? Do Yarrow, Deroche, and downtown Chilliwack residents have enough in common with each other to make the Chilliwack North riding a logical choice?

Sometimes, there is no easy way around those decisions—there are only so many seats in the legislature and only so many ways you can slice a province. But people with strong opinions about the proposed changes don’t need to sit in silence.

The Electoral Boundary Commission is holding a series of final public meetings this fall to allow residents to share their thoughts on the preliminary report. An in-person meeting is being held Nov. 2 in Langley, to give Langley residents a chance to comment on the new ridings. A virtual meeting for all of BC is being held on Nov. 8. Residents can also submit their comments online anytime.

Want to explore what your new riding could look like? Check out our interactive map below. Toggle between the current riding configuration and the 2022 proposed ridings using the map’s sidebar.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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