Redrawing of Nova Scotia's electoral map focuses on Acadian and black voters
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's electoral map could be dramatically altered under a list of new proposals aimed at ensuring effective representation for black and Acadian voters.
The five draft proposals from the province's electoral boundaries commission are now up for discussion during provincewide public hearings that started this week.
The first proposal calls for restoring four so-called extraordinary electoral districts: the predominantly black riding of Preston and the largely Acadian ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond.
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.
The commission also says the Acadian community of Cheticamp in western Cape Breton should either become a separate, extraordinary district or be merged with Richmond, which is in southeastern Cape Breton.
If the latter proposal is adopted, the merger would create a unusual non-contiguous riding, which means the district would represent Acadians from separate geographic areas.
Marie-Claude Rioux, executive director of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, welcomed the return of the three original extraordinary districts.
"Obviously, this is what we want," she said. "We are determined to get those ridings back ... and to add Cheticamp to that group. It should have its own riding as well."
However, Rioux said her group is strongly opposed to making Cheticamp part of a non-contiguous district.
She said grafting one, well-defined Acadian community onto another would be a mistake because the Acadians in Cheticamp don't have enough in common with those in Richmond. She said the same is true with Clare and Argyle in western Nova Scotia.
Rioux said Acadian communities were purposely scattered across the province to ensure they wouldn't pose a threat to their British rulers. The result was the creation of small but fiercely independent communities that have developed their own distinct cultures and dialects.
The Acadian communities of Clare and Argyle used to have a joint school board, but it failed because "the people from Clare are totally different from the people from Argyle," Rioux said.
"Furthermore, nowhere in Canada do you have non-contiguous ridings."
The commission is also seeking input about the possible addition of members-at-large, whose role in the legislature would be to represent either Acadian or African Nova Scotian communities that are found across the province.
"We have Acadian populations that are not in the current group of (extraordinary districts)," said Colin Dodds, the commission's chairman.
"And if you take the African Nova Scotian population, they're dispersed all over the place ... The idea is to have a single seat that everyone who is African Nova Scotian could vote for -- and also for the Acadian population."
Again, Rioux said that idea was a non-starter for the Acadian community.
She said Nova Scotia's Mi'kmaq community has long had the opportunity, under provincial law, to vote for a member at large, but the idea hasn't drawn much support.
"They never used it," she said. "Again, Mi'kmaq from mainland Nova Scotia are completely different than those from Cape Breton. How would you select the one person to represent the Mi'kmaq people. It's the same problem for Acadians or African Nova Scotians."
The commission's final proposal calls for creation of two additional ridings in the Halifax area -- Bedford and Cole Harbour -- to account for the growing populations in those two bedroom communities.
If Cheticamp were to be designated as an extraordinary district, the commission's proposals would add five seats in the provincial legislature, bringing the total to 56.
The commission is slated to deliver an interim report on Nov. 30 and a final report on April 1, 2019.
So far, public consultations have been scheduled until Sept. 22.
Dodds stressed that the final report could look quite different from these initial proposals.
He said the commission has a mandate to draft a minimum of two redrawn electoral boundary maps, including one that has no more than 51 districts, which is the current total in the house of assembly.