Banff being incorporated into Yellowhead makes sense, Richard Ireland suggests
Banff could be part of the same electoral district as Jasper come 2024 and Jasper’s mayor, for one, is all for it.
Richard Ireland has been at the head of Jasper’s civic government since 1990. If Banff is incorporated into the same district as Jasper, it would mean the two communities would have more of a voice in Ottawa, he said.
“As tourism-dependent communities, because we have the same economic base, we have lots of issues that are almost identical.”
As is the case every decade or so, Alberta’s electoral boundaries are currently being redrawn to reflect population changes in the province. Jasper has been part of Yellowhead for four decades, prior to which it was included in the now-abolished Rocky Mountain district. At that time, Banff was part of the riding, along with Canmore, Waterton and Grande Cache, an arrangement that made sense, Ireland said, to advance those communities’ common interests. When Rocky Mountain district was scrapped in 1976 and Jasper was incorporated into an east-west alignment with Hinton, Edson, Drayton Valley and Clearwater County, Ireland said the national park community suddenly became an outlier in its riding.
“We’re a different sort of community compared to our neighbours just east of us,” Ireland said. “Those communities are all based on resource extraction. We’re the opposite.”
Alberta’s population grew from 3.6 million people in 2011 to 4.2 million in the 2021 census. As a result, the province will gain three electoral districts, going from 34 to 37 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Most of that population increase was concentrated in Edmonton and Calgary and the surrounding regions. Edmonton, for example, has grown 25 per cent in that time.
“We’ve redrawn the entire electoral map of Alberta,” said the Chair of Alberta’s 2022 Electoral Boundaries Commission, Justice Bruce McDonald. “It’s largely a numbers exercise.”
The proposed changes will split Banff and Canmore; while Banff would join the Yellowhead riding, Canmore would join a riding with Carstairs, Cochrane, Crossfield, Didsbury and Olds, a realignment at which Banff and Canmore officials have expressed surprise.
“We were surprised to see Banff and Canmore being separated,” said Banff’s mayor, Corrie DiManno. “We always say we’re one community with two towns.”
In an ideal world, DiManno said Jasper, Banff and Canmore would be in the same riding.
“Especially provincially, the three communities have been working together to work towards obtaining some sort of resort municipality status. We’re all small communities servicing large numbers of visitors,” DiManno said.
Yellowhead’s Member of Parliament, Gerald Soroka, echoed DiManno’s concern, that Banff and Canmore could be split.
“These are two communities that need to stay together as they are very dependent on each other,” Soroka said.
If the changes go through in 2024, Yellowhead, currently Alberta’s fourth largest riding, would become even larger, making the job of representing all of its constituents effectively a significant geographical challenge. Former Yellowhead MP Jim Eglinski’s campaign team told the Jasper Local in 2015 that between campaigning and catching flights to Ottawa, the MP put more than 60,000 kms on his truck in one year.
“That’s the hardest part of the job, the travel,” Eglinski said at the time.
Yet that’s simply the nature of political representation in rural Alberta, Justice McDonald said; with large provinces come large ridings. The commission’s target quota is 115,206 voters in each electoral district. In areas where the population is widely spread out, there’s no getting around having big constituencies.
“No pun intended but it comes with the territory,” McDonald said. “It’s a hard job, but I would say that it’s easier than 30 or 40 years ago before the internet.”
When it comes to giving feedback on the proposed changes to the Electoral Boundaries Commission, Jasper residents who’d like to make comments will certainly be relying on the internet. The commission will conduct 22 on-site hearings across the province starting in September, but the closest one to Jasper will be in Banff. In the absence of a local forum, McDonald said two virtual hearings are scheduled for October.
“If it’s inconvenient for someone in Jasper to drive to Edmonton or Banff, that’s why we have the virtual hearings,” he said.
If Ireland weighs in, whether in-person or online, he’ll be voicing his consensus with the proposal to have Banff and Jasper in the same electoral district. If the two tourism communities can speak to just one Member of Parliament—or better yet, to Canada’s Minister of Tourism directly—that only bodes well for the issues that the tourism-based communities face together. He’s been waiting decades for such an opportunity.
“It’s been an issue that’s been a personal interest of mine,” he said. “I’m happy to see some movement in the right direction.”
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org