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Can you lose Prince George and win the election?

Posted on 29 August 2015


Note: this is “thinking-out-loud” post – if you think I’ve missed something, let me know

One thing I’ve been curious about for a while is how important it is for federal candidates to win the city of Prince George if they want to become a Member of Parliament. Even though Prince George is the largest city in the north, it’s divided into two for purposes of electoral boundaries. That means the roughly 71,000 people here are thrown into a pot with a bunch of other towns and cities, giving the city as a whole less weight than you might expect.

2015 is going to be the first election with the newly distributed ridings, so I decided to take a look at how it adds up.

Prince George – Peace River – Northern Rockies

The big change here is the addition of the Northern Rockies (ie Valemount and the Robson Valley) alongside the rest of B.C.’s northeast (Fort St John, Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Fort Nelson, etc). It is described on the federal electoral district page as:

The overall population given for the riding is 107,382.

If the whole of Prince George were in here, it would be the majority. But it isn’t – just the north part of it. I’m honestly not sure how to figure out what the population of just that part of the city is (if you have an idea let me know), but I can start adding up the rest of the region and take a guess.

Using numbers from the 2011 census I can start adding this up. There’s a lot, so I’m only going to count the places with over 100 people.

Northern Rockies Regional District: 5,290 (revised count)

Fort Nelson 2: 457

Peace River C: 6,398

Peace River B: 5,552

Peace River D: 5,479

Peace River E: 2,764

Fort St John: 18,609

Dawson Creek: 11,583

Tumbler Ridge: 2,710

Chetwynd: 2,635

Taylor: 1,373

Hudson’s Hope: 970

Pouce Coupe: 738

At this point we have 54,168 – over fifty percent of the riding. That’s even before adding Valemount’s 1,020, McBride’s 586, Mackenzie’s 3,507, and the various parts of the regional district of Fraser-Fort George. The city of Prince George represents somewhere in the realm of 40-45 percent of the riding, depending on how you’d like to characterize “the city”.

Moving on….

Cariboo-Prince George

This riding consists of 108,252 people, divided up like so:

So once again, let’s start adding it up:

Williams Lake: 10,832

Quesnel: 10,007

Cariboo A: 6,250

Cariboo B: 4,006

Cariboo C: 1,225

Cariboo D: 2,988

Cariboo E: 4,129

Cariboo F: 4,564

Cariboo I: 1,511

Cariboo J: 600

Cariboo K: 494

Wells: 245

Vanderhoof: 4,480

Bulkley-Nechako F: 3,702

This is 55,033, just enough to tip us over the 50 percent mark. Unlike the Peace River regional district, where the north alone is enough to overwhelm Prince George without even throwing in the east, this one requires both the south and west to do it. Still, the city of Prince George itself once again consists of less than 50 percent of the overall riding.

What does it mean?

Probably not a lot – I don’t think you’re going to see a candidate campaign on an explicitly anti-Prince George campaign to win over all the voters in the rest of the riding. You still need to appeal to people in northern B.C.’s capital if you want to win northern B.C.

But that’s not enough. Unlike more metropolitan ridings where you can focus on a single city or area in your attempt to win, I can’t imagine a successful candidate taking the risk of focusing solely on Prince George without paying a few visits to the rest of the region.

This is particularly pronounced in the Peace. While Prince George acts as a service centre for Quesnel and much of the Cariboo, the bulk of the population in the Peace River-Northern Rockies riding is focused in the northeast – the cluster of communities surrounding Dawson Creek and Fort St John. If you were to focus on one part of the riding in an attempt to win, it would be the northeast over Prince George.

In practice, this situation has already played out a few times. For the bulk of the nineties and the 2000s, the rep for Prince George-Peace River was Jay Hill of Fort St John. When he stepped down, the race to replace him in the Conservative party was between Cameron Stolz, a businessman and city councillour in Prince George, and Bob Zimmer, a shop teacher in Fort St John. Despite having no previous electoral record and no real connections to Prince George, Zimmer won. Similarly, when Dick Harris said he would be leaving his post as the Conservative rep in the Cariboo, Shari Green- who had already won one term on Prince George council and then defeated an incumbent to become mayor – failed to win support of the party base. And just this past week, another previous city councillour, Deborah Munoz, lost her bid to represent the NDP to Trent Derrick. This despite the fact that Munoz had bested Derrick twice in the number of votes received in their runs for council in Prince George.

There are far too many other factors at play to draw simplistic lessons from this, but the one thing I take away is electoral success in Prince George does not translate to success on the federal level, and the relative weight of Prince George compared to the rest of the riding may have something to do with that.

Filed under: Prince George

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