Mr. Clark: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Good evening, everyone. Thank you very much, hon. colleagues. I’m rising to speak to Bill 33. I just want to start by reflecting on the process that got us to this point, the process that the Electoral Boundaries Commission went through, the two-stage process. There was a series of public hearings, at the very least eight if I’m not mistaken, an online submission process where Albertans could weigh in, and a draft set of boundaries that were distributed. Albertans then had an opportunity to weigh in on that with another series of hearings and a tour around the province, rural and urban, another opportunity to provide input in person and online, and ultimately the report was finalized.
[Mr. Sucha in the chair]
I just want to remind the House – I’m sure you all know this – that the commission was made up of two members appointed by the government, two members appointed by the Official Opposition, chaired by a Provincial Court judge. The process itself, I think, should be respected, and we need to understand that the process, at least ostensibly, ought to be a nonpartisan process. I will say that, yes, we have two members appointed by the government, but two members appointed by the Official Opposition.
Now, it’s worth noting that one of the members appointed by the Official Opposition did write a minority report differing from the perspective of the majority, and she was certainly within her rights to do so. I think she made some very, very important points in that minority report, points that I think rural Alberta reflected in their submissions.
Members here in this House on both the government and opposition sides have made some points through their voting on Government Motion 34 and also what we’ve heard in debate about the feelings of rural Alberta as they relates to electoral boundaries. What it comes down to is: how do we balance the need to have representation by population in dense urban areas and areas that are not densely populated but have a large, large geographic area, and then how do we ensure that the Assembly represents a reasonable balance of what our province looks like?
In the end, given that it was such a thorough process – and I acknowledge the very legitimate concerns that rural Albertans have with the new electoral boundaries – I will support Bill 33, primarily because of the process that the Commission went through.
But I will say, though – and I know this is not an issue specific to what we can address in the House with this particular bill; however, it is something perhaps that Members’ Services could address, and that is: are there other ways of ensuring that rural Alberta has the representation that they need through constituency offices? Is there an opportunity – and I suggest that there certainly is an opportunity, and it’s something we should look very closely at on Members’ Services – to adjust the formula to ensure that rural Alberta, especially the new larger constituencies, have more resources available to them to have more constituency offices or offices open longer. Perhaps we could have a formula that any municipality above a certain size would be allocated a constituency office or a partial constituency office.
That doesn’t change the fact that it’s very difficult for MLAs that represent large rural constituencies to actually physically get around that constituency, to be in the communities when and where their constituents want them to be. It is a different situation than the situation I face in an inner-city, urban constituency. It just is. It is tremendously challenging. I have great empathy for MLAs who have to cover such tremendous geographic distances.
However, in the 21st century we have new communication technologies that allow for us to be engaged with our constituents in a different way than we were able to even a decade ago. I know that doesn’t replace face to face – it’s not as good – but it is an opportunity to at least stay engaged with what your constituents are talking about.
The other way, that’s a bit of a halfway between a straight online interaction and a face to face with the MLA, is by having a constituency office available to those residents and expanding those out. I would absolutely be supportive of two or three constituency offices for some of the larger rural constituencies. It doesn’t replace that one-on-one that you would get with the MLA, but it’s a halfway point. It’s a start.
In the end, I think that notwithstanding the fact that I understand the concerns of rural Alberta, I would encourage all members in this House to support this bill – the process was thorough – and we can move forward and address other legislation here in the brief time that we have remaining together before the festive season.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.