BOW VALLEY – Since Alberta became a province in 1905, Canmore and Banff have been two peas in a pod when it comes to federal constituencies.
The area has gone through several riding redistributions since Alberta joined Confederation, with the most recent happening in 2015. Now, the time has come for another redrawing of the electoral map.
This time, the proposed redistribution may split Banff and Canmore into two separate ridings. In the proposal, Banff would join the Yellowhead riding with Drayton Valley, Edson, Mayerthorpe, Jasper and Hinton. Canmore would join a riding with Carstairs, Cochrane, Crossfield, Didsbury and Olds.
The Yellowhead riding would be the third-largest riding in Alberta, extending from Banff in the south to north of Grande Cache, and west nearly to bedroom communities of Edmonton. The Canmore-Cochrane-Olds riding would be much smaller, extending from Canmore in the south to Olds in the north.
These boundary changes are non-partisan, mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada with a percentage discrepancy required between the largest and smallest constituencies in the country. An independent commission attempts to redraw boundaries based on growth of population in some constituencies, which has put the riding out of step with other constituencies.
“You don’t want one constituency with very few members to have representation that is out of proportion with a dense constituency,” said Lori Williams, associate professor in the department of Economics Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University. “You want a balance between the largest and the smallest. It is a delicate balance; it is difficult to manage.”
Prior to the Banff-Airdrie riding, both communities were in the Wild Rose riding from 1988 to 2015. Before that, it was the Bow River riding from 1979 to 1988, and from 1968 to 1979 it was Rocky Mountains. From 1908 to 1968, both communities were within the Macleod Riding.
Alberta has also seen its population grow from 3.6 million people in 2011 to 4.2 million in 2021, necessitating an adjustment. Both Banff and Canmore have also seen large population increases in that same length of time.
“One reason behind doing this is because there is a dense population in Banff and Canmore,” Williams said. “Having both in the same constituency could put them out of step with other boundaries.”
Within a province, there also has to be a certain number of seats and the difference between the densest and least dense constituency cannot be too large.
“It is mandated by law,” Williams said. “There are requirements to manage that balance. Some kind of change will have to be necessary, but where the lines are drawn is not set in stone.”
Blake Richards, who has represented Banff-Airdrie since the riding was created in 2015, and Wild Rose since 2008, understands the need for the change, but is surprised by the division of the two communities.
“The fact that Banff and Canmore would be split and not be in the same riding makes no sense to me,” Richards said. “I do have some major concerns there and I do think there is a way that it can be fixed.”
Richards added that he was working on putting a proposal forward to the commission for how they can fix the boundary change.
“I have some ideas. I think it would be fairly easy looking at the surrounding ridings. There are ways you could swap population for something more logical,” Richards said. “I understand they have to stick to a population number. I want to talk to the communities but certainly I think there are ways it can be done, and it has to be done.”
One issue raised by Richards was the two communities are intertwined in many ways, especially when it comes to organizations within the Bow Valley.
“It is a very weird decision. I think probably one that is grounded in not understanding that Banff and Canmore are tied in so many ways,” he said. “Look at the Chamber of Commerce, it is the Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce. Look at the housing commissions, the community foundation, there are so many examples of where it is not Banff by itself, it is not Canmore by itself, it is the Bow Valley.”
This inter-connectedness of the two communities was echoed by Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno.
“We have always said we are one community with two towns when we talk about Banff and Canmore. We have so many people that live in Canmore and work in Banff,” DiManno said. “We share a transit system; we have a regional emergency management approach. There are circumstances where we have animals going across the boundary, so there is a regional approach to wildlife.”
While Banff would move out of the riding, it would join the same riding as Jasper, another community like Banff in many ways.
“When we look at who we would be in this riding with if it goes through, we have a lot in common with Jasper.”
DiManno also believes that being in a riding composed mostly of towns would result in more in common within the riding than compared to Calgary bedroom communities. She also feels it would give Banff more of a voice.
“I think one take on this is that when you look at the number in general of the population that is our current Banff-Airdrie riding, it is a small population in terms of number,” DiManno said. “That could mean that Banff’s voice could be heard a bit louder, but that is something we will have to wait and see what happens.”
No matter what happens with the riding boundary changes, DiManno states it will not impact the relationship that Banff has with its neighbour town.
“We will still maintain our very strong relationship with Canmore,” she said. “It won’t change our relationship, but we are also trying to see the silver lining that we have a lot in common with Jasper.”
Sean Krausert, mayor of Canmore, also expressed surprise at the splitting of Banff and Canmore, but added that he understands redistributions are a normal process.
“I would have thought it would be logical to include us together,” Krausert said. “The riding with Banff and Jasper, it expands quite far into the Yellowhead region. The new proposed riding of Canmore-Cochrane-Olds is really not that different, as far as makeup, as previous.”
Krausert stated that he does not believe Canmore will see much of a change in impact with the new riding, beyond splitting from Banff.
“I think that what happens in this proposed redistribution is Airdrie is taken out and Banff is taken out,” Krausert said. “The offset leaves us about the same distribution as far as votes as before. It is really not going to have too much of an impact on us.”
A riding Krausert would like to see is a mountain community riding, extending from the southern Alberta border up to Jasper. Many of the communities within that proposed riding share similar mindsets and voting patterns.
“I expect that the population base needed would not be sufficient for that sort of riding,” he said. “You would have to expand more into the interior of the province.”
The similarity between the communities extends beyond shared organizations. Williams states that both towns have worked together in provincial politics, even when other towns in the riding have not followed suit.
“We saw Banff and Canmore writing letters, disagreeing with the position taken by their MLA. Both their mayors were involved in disagreements with the representation provided by their MLA, while there were other areas that did not have that disagreement,” Williams said. “To put them into different constituencies might diminish what the two populations share in common.”
According to Williams, changes in a riding can also bring in unpredictability, which impacts voter turnout. Since the creation of Banff-Airdrie, voter turnout has ranged between 69 and 73 per cent. Richards has also won each election by no less than 56 per cent of the vote.
“If you are in a riding that has come very close, that makes people realize their vote makes a difference,” Williams said. “With the boundary change, with less predictability in the mix, knowledge that there have been times in electoral contests that there have been people who have won federally by a handful of votes, will generate higher voter turnout.”
With his riding now splitting, Richards has not indicated which riding he will represent if the change goes through.
“At this point, I recognize there are going to be some changes. We don’t know what the boundaries are, so until we know what the final boundaries will be, it is hard to say,” Richards said. “I like the riding I represent now, and I don’t want to lose anybody. It will be a hard decision no matter what it comes down to.”
Since the change is not confirmed at this point, residents of the Bow Valley still have the chance to voice their opinion. On Sept. 23, 2022, at 1 p.m., a public hearing will be held at the Banff Park Lodge Resort Hotel and Conference Centre. Later that same day at 7 p.m., another public hearing will be held at the Canmore Opera House.
If anyone wishes to make a presentation at the hearing, they must send a notice to the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission by Aug. 15 by e-mailing AB@redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca.
The hearing deadline was extended from July 31 to Aug. 15 to give residents more time to participate in the process.