Commission says Nova Scotia should restore four minority ridings
HALIFAX -- A commission looking to redraw Nova Scotia's electoral map is calling for the restoration of four electoral districts aimed at improving representation for black and Acadian voters.
The commission's interim report was released Wednesday following a province-wide public consultation process in September.
"We conclude that the four formerly protected electoral districts should be restored, at the very least, in some version that would provide truly effective representation," the report states.
Those districts include the largely Acadian ridings of Clare, Argyle, and Richmond and the predominantly black riding of Preston. They were eliminated in 2012 when the province's former NDP government decided there were too few voters in each district, which prompted the Acadian community to launch a successful court challenge.
Commission chairman Colin Dodds said a further set of public consultations in January and February will present four alternatives for consideration.
One proposes 51 electoral districts with minor adjustments to existing boundaries, while another proposes 55 electoral districts including the four formerly protected districts.
A third proposes 55 electoral districts with a 56th dual member seat for the Cape Breton riding of Inverness, where one of the two members would represent Acadian voters, and the fourth proposes 56 electoral districts including an added district for the Acadian community of Cheticamp in western Cape Breton.
In order to address population growth in the Halifax municipality, the larger seat options include the splitting of the Bedford district into two seats -- Bedford Basin and Beford South. Another district named Cole Harbour Dartmouth would also address growth in the existing districts of Dartmouth South and Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.
The Nova Scotia House of Assembly currently has 51 seats.
"The commission at this time is not endorsing any of the alternatives," Dodds said. "These alternatives are for discussion."
Dodds said the challenge remains for the commission to balance effective representation with voter parity.
"The commission recognizes ... that recommending a larger house of assembly will not sit well with those seeking smaller government and closer voter parity," Dodds said. "And of course voter parity was a key issue back in 2012 when the interim report was rejected by the government of the day."
He said the commission received advice on reducing the size of the legislature, the need to increase the representation of the Halifax Regional Municipality, as well as specific suggestions to take more account of community boundaries.
The concepts of members at large and the use of non-contiguous constituencies to enhance effective representation were also tested, Dodds said, but both "received little support" during consultations.
Commission co-chair Angela Simmonds said the commission is considering adjustments to the Preston riding as it comes up with its electoral map. She said the changes wouldn't make it smaller or larger and would try to adhere to community boundary lines.
"It's just different," she said. "By going with the community boundary lines it seemed to make it more inclusive and make some communities feel more wholesome."
Argyle-Barrington Tory MLA Chris d'Entremont previously represented Argyle before changes to 2012's electoral map merged it with the district of Barrington. He welcomed the commission's idea of restoring the so-called extraordinary electoral districts.
"I'm very comfortable that they are listening to what the (Acadian) community is saying to them," he said. "Ultimately this is what they (Acadians) have been asking for since 2012 and even before that."
D'Entremont said such a change would allow the district's representative to "concentrate more on minority francophone rights and services," something he said he can't do now as part of a larger linguistically mixed riding.
NDP legislator Claudia Chender said the four options present a "lot to chew on" for Nova Scotians.
A final report is expected by April 1.