By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A plan to redraw boundaries for provincial voters is based on questions of representing populations, but two current MLAs will face shifting voter bases and a decision of where to run in the next election in May 2019.
This week the Alberta Electorate Boundaries Commission suggests a final plan to essentially amalgamate then split Medicine Hat and Cypress-Medicine Hat into two equally sized urban-rural “blended” ridings.
The South Saskatchewan River and Third Street downtown make up the basic dividing line in Medicine Hat city limits — an area that gave the NDP a breakthrough victory in 2015.
Brooks would be added to the north, while Forty Mile would be removed from the southern portion.
Cypress-Medicine Hat Drew Barnes (UCP) said it’s “likely” he would contest the next election in the southern portion, which would maintain the its name but include more city residents than at present.
He called the blending proposal an “accurate” portrayal of southeast Alberta.
“I think most Medicine Hatters would say if they had to join with somewhere else, the people of Brooks have similar values,” said Barnes. “I’m kind of excited about it and I’m anxious to talk to constituents in other parts of the city.”
Barnes also dismissed the idea that splitting the urban riding —which supported the NDP in 2015 — shouldn’t necessarily be viewed through a political lens.
“I’ve not been hearing a lot of support for the NDP anywhere in the city,” said Barnes. “I’m going to have to go out into new areas and work to earn support.”
Medicine Hat MLA Bob Wanner, a New Democrat and also speaker of the legislature, typically does not comment on arm’s-length reports that his office deals with, such as this week’s.
A spokesman for the local NDP constituency association however, said the new local districts are a “disappointment.”
The group argued at hearings that a rural riding and an urban riding with two separate MLAs would improve the focus on separate sets of issues.
“It’s our belief that Medicine Hat is an urban riding, it’s currently represented well as an urban riding,” said association vice president Kelly Garland. “Most medium-sized centres are considered urban ridings.
“It certainly changes the outlook for someone who would have to represent some pretty different issues in city areas and rural areas.”
The north city riding would also gain the county of Newell and City of Brooks to become Brooks-Medicine Hat. Forty Mile county, which now votes with Cypress-Medicine Hat, would join Taber-Warner.
On the surface, the changes could make it extremely difficult for the NDP to hold a local riding.
The new division line also splits areas where Wanner was strongest during the 2015 election. That year, the New Democrat won a close race with wins in 29 of the 47 polling districts south of the South Saskatchewan River, and 11 of the 28 in north Medicine Hat.
To win in either of the new ridings the NDP would have to woo a huge number of voters in staunchly conservative areas of rural Alberta.
Barnes enjoyed strong, uniform support in rural areas during the last election and also performed strong in urban sections, then limited to mainly city communities south of the Trans-Canada Highway.
The UCP generally disagrees with a proposal that would add three ridings in growing centres of Calgary and Edmonton — where the NDP has its highest support.
Forty Mile on the move
Bow Island Mayor Gordon Reynolds said that town and 40 Mile county joining with only Taber and Warner Counties is much more sensible than an original plan for a huge riding from the Saskatchewan boundary to Vulcan County.
“It’s still a big riding, but not ridiculously big,” he said.
“I see a lot of common ground between us here and Taber, Wretham and down there.”