Directors with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen will ask local MP Dan Albas to take action against forthcoming changes to federal electoral boundaries.
At their most recent meeting, directors voted to send Albas a letter urging him to oppose the new riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, which would include Summerland, Kamloops and rural areas south to the U.S. border. Penticton, meanwhile, will become part of South Okanagan-West Kootenay, which would stretch to Trail and Castlegar.
"We've asked (Albas) to oppose the restructuring of the federal boundary based on the arguments already made to the (boundaries) commission. We don't think Summerland and Penticton should be split up," said RDOS director Garry Litke, a Penticton city councillor, in an interview Saturday.
Currently, Penticton and Summerland are in the same federal riding, Okanagan-Coquihalla, along with Peachland and West Kelowna. However, that riding would disappear under the proposed changes.
"Summerland and Penticton share economic zones, a hospital, education zones, and they have a lot of people who commute back and forth between the two communities, and we don't feel it's best to divide the two," Litke said.
"There's also a question of numbers. This would be 100,000 (voter) population compared to 90,000 in some places in the Lower Mainland."
According to the RDOS, an MP may register opposition, but must first provide the signatures of 10 or more members of Parliament to reopen debate. Boundary-Similkameen MP Alex Atamanenko, an NDP member whose riding will be affected, has spoken out against the changes.
Albas, the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, said he has already given his submission, which he's posted on his website, stating his concerns about the new ridings. Accessibility and rural constituents are among his major concerns. He uses Keremeos as an example, stating residents there would have to drive one hour through another riding to have access to their MP.
"I'm always happy to receive feedback," Albas said of the letter he will receive from the RDOS, "but I've already placed my submission, and it has been consulted on widely."
With respect to rural ridings, he notes Atamanenko requires two offices for his constituents due to the large geographical area in his riding.
"I'd like to see smaller ridings with larger numbers of people due to accessibility. I recognize the challenges the commission has, but for me it may seem almost hypocritical that I vote to add six new seats for B.C. so that B.C. receives proper representation, but now I'm saying that I don't like it."
Albas believes constituents want face-to-face interaction with their MPs.
"When I'm in Ottawa, phone calls and emails are a necessity, and I'm even looking into Skype. But when I'm home, if someone wants to meet with their MP, that's a big part of accountability and accessibility in our system," he said.
"Politics is local. Even in my days on Penticton city council, someone would ask, 'Can you come and see my road?' or maybe I would get a tour of a mine or a business."
Summerland Mayor Janice Perrino, who is also an RDOS director, was pleased the regional district will send the letter to Albas, although she's not optimistic the issue will be resolved in time for the 2015 federal election.
Perrino has been an outspoken critic of moving Summerland and Penticton to separate ridings.
"We'd like it to stay exactly as it is today," Perrino said. "We don't see the need for a change.
"It's a number's game, but when the final results came through, the numbers didn't really make a lot of sense. We (Summerland) basically do everything else with Penticton, and it's only right they stay in the same federal electoral riding. Dan Albas is definitely aware of our concerns - that we feel this is a major issue."