N.S. report calls for improved representation for black, Acadian voters
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia should return to 55 electoral districts -- including the restoration of four protected districts aimed at improving representation for black and Acadian voters, an independent commission says.
The 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 and reduced the number of seats in the legislature to 51.
The changes led to a successful court challenge by the province's Acadian community that ultimately resulted in the commission's report, which was released Monday.
"Acknowledgment of these core communities is important because the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in ... 1991, Canadian citizens have the right ... to effective representation in the legislature, as well as the right to vote and to voter parity," stated the report.
Commission co-chair Angela Simmonds said the move to create the Preston riding to address the concerns of African Nova Scotians is important for the community.
"Our hope is that people will trust this process and that maybe there will be some legitimacy in having their voice heard and they'll begin to bridge that gap of mistrusting government," Simmonds said.
Justice Minister Mark Furey said the Liberal government would review the commission's recommendations before deciding on next steps.
He said the report will be considered by the legislature during its fall session and if approved the changes would be in place by the next provincial election.
Other changes proposed by the commission would create two additional seats for the Halifax area to reflect its growing population. There would also be a specific seat for the district of Queens, while Shelburne would return to its more traditional boundaries.
A seat would be created for Guysborough-Tracadie, while Eastern Shore would be removed from the existing configuration and given its own seat. With the return of the Clare seat, the commission also decided to create a new district for Digby Annapolis.
The final report looking at Nova Scotia's electoral map followed a series of public consultations held in January that presented four alternatives for consideration.
They included 51 electoral districts with minor adjustments to existing boundaries; 55 electoral districts including the four formerly protected ridings; and 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.
The fourth possibility would have seen 56 electoral districts including an added district for the Acadian community of Cheticamp in western Cape Breton.
Although the final report had the support of all nine commissioners, four dissented over the decision not to create a new protected electoral district for Acadian voters in Cheticamp.
The report's dissenting opinion argued the area's Acadian population does not enjoy effective representation on par with other Nova Scotians as part of the Inverness riding. It said the failure to add a 56th seat also reflects an urban-rural divide in the province.
"It would be a great asset for our province," commission member Paul Gaudet said of a seat for Cheticamp.
"It's not a question of quaintness, but a question of a distinct part of Nova Scotia having been neglected over the years. So we thought probably with the terms of reference this time around that we could go up to 56."
However, commission chairman Colin Dodds said the majority of the commission felt it was simply "going too far" to give Cheticamp a seat given the area's overall population.
"I can tell you that some members of the commission including myself said it was a decision between the head and the heart and it was a very difficult choice for us," Dodds said.
Norbert LeBlanc, president of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, welcomed the return of the three Acadian protected ridings and said it was premature to say whether the omission of Cheticamp would lead to another court challenge.
"I think we have to assess where we are and we have to look at how can we better serve the people of Cheticamp," said LeBlanc.