Mon, Nov 05, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Canadians wrangling over fair rural and urban representation systems


The mythical Wild West of British Columbia, a province founded on fishing, fur trapping and forestry, has become domesticated -- but lawmakers are fighting to preserve the historic power of the hinterland.

About 85 percent of people in Canada's westernmost province now live in densely-populated modern cities -- reflecting a global trend in migration. The UN predicts that by 2020, 60 percent of the world's population will live in urban centers.

But this shift has become painful and contentious. And now, as legislators prepare to pass a popular law to protect rural electoral representation, Canada's biggest civil liberties agency has declared war.

"It's people that vote, it's not mountains and hills and streams," said lawyer Rob Holmes of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

He said the proposed changes to the way the province elects its representatives would violate the "one-person-one-vote principle" and erase democratic equality.

The association, a national group, announced it would use Canada's Constitution to fight the law, to Canada's top court if necessary.

But well-organized and outspoken rural residents, as well as politicians from both main politicial parties, loudly objected to the change. The government's response was to change the electoral boundaries law.

"Reducing rural representation is unacceptable," said Justice Minister Wally Oppal, who introduced Bill 39 that would protect the number of elected representatives in three rural areas as the population falls.

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