Boundaries meeting draws 2,500 people

Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Commission witness to strong show of unity in response to boundaries proposals that people call divisive

By Tina Comeau

THE VANGUARD

NovaNewsNow.com

You know people are passionate about an issue when you have around 2,200 chairs at a meeting and it still isn’t enough to accommodate the crowd.

Such was the case at the Mariners Centre on Monday evening, Aug. 13, as around 2,500 people turned out for a public session to share their views on a revised interim report by the province’s Electoral Boundaries Commission. In comparison, some other sessions in the province have drawn less than 100 people.

And for a report that threatens to divide Yarmouth, there was a true feeling of unity in the arena as people gathered for a common goal: to protect their community identities.

The interim report calls for the elimination of the ridings of Yarmouth, Argyle and Clare and proposes they be replaced with a Yarmouth-Argyle riding and a Clare-Yarmouth riding.

There isn’t much support for the proposal that would divide the riding of Yarmouth and eliminate the two protected Acadian ridings.

Nor did the commission expect there to be.

“We know very well that there is much dissatisfaction with what we have proposed,” commission chair Teresa MacNeil said at the start of the meeting. She said the commission, therefore, needed to hear what can be done to  make the situation acceptable.

“The status quo is not an option,” she said, which drew boos from the crowd.

The commission had actually included the status quo for the three ridings in its first interim report. But for that it got its knuckles rapped by the NDP provincial government, which said the commission had not adhered to the legally binding terms of reference that spelled out population variances that had to be met and the two Acadian ridings fell far short of that. Therefore the government rejected the first interim report.

But even after being told the status quo is a no go, many of the presenters still called on the commission to once again include this as its proposal in its final report that has to be prepared for the government by Aug. 31.

The commission was told they had gotten it right the first time. And they were also told it is wrong to take the riding of Yarmouth, which has the ideal numbers for a provincial riding, and carve it in two.

“Our political representation is a critical component of our history, culture, identity, morale and confidence as a community. It allows the collective interests of our community to be represented with one unified voice, which has served us for close to 200 years,” said Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill. “Your proposal takes that all away. This proposal is unfair and destructive on a number of levels.”

Churchill informed the commission that close to 6,000 people had signed a written petition, and another 1,000 people had signed the petition’s online version, that calls for the riding of Yarmouth to be kept intact.

“I want to be clear; the concern over this isn’t about joining one or both of these communities (Argyle and Clare) to ours,” said Churchill. “We are all neighbours and interdependent on one another. But it is the destructive act of tearing Yarmouth in two and minimizing our political voice which we unequivocally oppose.”

He, and other presenters, said Yarmouth feels as if it is under attack by the NDP provincial government. People feel strongly about losing their political identity in the Legislature.

“You people have our sympathies. You are the ears for people who don’t want to listen,” Yarmouth resident John Sollows said, referring to the provincial government.

Sollows said he thought a duty of a government was to fight marginalization, not to increase it. But he said that’s just what this electoral boundaries review is doing.

“Nova Scotia’s rural voice needs to be strengthened, not weakened,” he said, as he later held up an Acadian flag saying he identified more with that flag at this moment than he does with the Nova Scotia flag.

Yarmouth Mayor Phil Mooney told the commission members that the proposal contained in the interim report does not guarantee an Acadian MLA from either riding will be elected. “But it does guarantee that Yarmouth will not have a unified voice in the Legislature,” he said.

Councillor Ken Crosby from the Municipality of Yarmouth said that dividing the municipality between two ridings will be problematic. If the municipality is represented by two MLAs from different political parties with differing views on issues or projects, how will that work for the area, he questioned? Crosby also said as the province is becoming more urbanized with more people moving to the Halifax area, basing ridings simply on populations numbers means in future years rural areas won’t be represented at all. David Sollows, one of the last presenters of the evening, also expressed concern that too many MLAs from HRM (the Halifax region) will be making decisions that impact all of Nova Scotia.

Crosby, meanwhile, told the commission it should once again recommend the status quo to the provincial government. If that isn’t acceptable to the premier and the government, he said, than the commission should do the honourable thing and resign.

During many of the submissions to the commission, people reiterated the difficult times that Yarmouth has been through over the past years. The ferry issue was referred to often.

Mike Mercier, the vice-president of the Yarmouth and Area Chamber of Commerce, said the business community is very concerned with what is proposed in the interim report.

“This is not the time to be dividing Yarmouth in two,” he said.

Michael Drew, the vice-president of the Yarmouth Liberal Association, applauded the commission for its first interim report.

“You had it exactly right the first time,” he said, adding, “Our Acadian neighbours ought to have their own protected ridings.”

He said there is more to be considered than just numbers when it comes to provincial ridings, there is the history of a community and its economic situation. Yarmouth, he said, has been fighting for its economic survival for the past three years. He said losing its political voice threatens the economic future of Yarmouth.

“This second interim report makes you look like the pawns of a vindictive government that for some reason seems to have the destruction of Yarmouth on its agenda,” he said, adding the interim report is divisive, because not only does it divide Yarmouth but  it also pits Yarmouth and its neighbours against one another as they fight for the survival of their respective communities.

“Shame on you,” he told the commission, saying all of this comes at a time when the area is striving to unify to survive economically. “You kick us in the face. You gut us like a fish,” Drew said.

 

Continued on next page....

Organizations: Electoral Boundaries Commission

Geographic location: Yarmouth

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Jonathan Smith
    August 19, 2012 - 11:34

    The issue in my view is not so much an Acadian issue as the issue of Yarmouth losing it's distinct provincial political voice. We are losing that voice at a time when we need it most. This is one more blow to the region in a rapidly lengthening list. Another growing list is the people leaving here ( if they can sell their houses ). The cost of living and the oppressive business climate combined with stagnant wages is making people realize the grass is far greener elsewhere. Yarmouth is coming to a point of no return. Even if we got the ferry back, there is very little here to keep the tourists in town because our tourism industry has been severely damaged. I for one am feeling a huge disconnect between our region and the provincial government. Yarmouth is becoming a place where people wait to die. After the elderly populace passes on and lobstering goes under, what then? The Dexter government knows that this region is a nightmare, so their solution is to weaken representation so our voice fades away. It makes my blood boil, and it all makes me wonder why my wife and I continue to remain here at all.

  • The Cowboy
    August 18, 2012 - 10:43

    I have read comments like Julie's all week. Let me put it in perspective: 1) The Acadian community of SW Nova has been here for 400+ yrs. Not even the Explusion (called crimes against humanity) or attempts to force assimilation have been able to crush our way of life. Where else in the province can you find communities that operate in French? Stores, banks, restaurants and even a radio station cultivated through our centuries of residency. 2) A simple measure of an Acadian community is it's festival. I have been unable to find evidence of festivals in Truro or Bedford (which is claiming to be the largest Acadian community in the province) 3) Why are such comments of Anglo-Saxon supremacy not considered what it really is - discriminatory, degrading, and bordering on hate crime? Speaking in such terms of any other group would garner cries of foul play. But in Acadie, we are used to it. That's why we respresent a very unique aspect of the province - we have been here in our own culture for centuries, something no other immigrant community can say. If I were to have issues with a minority group's culture in the center of the universe you call HRM, I would labled a bigot, an intolerant and narrow minded hick. That game plays both ways, you just refuse to accept your prejudiced point of view.

  • Heather MacDonald
    August 14, 2012 - 12:30

    An excellent article, Tina! You've captured the essence of the evening, and the photos are phenomenal! Well done!

  • Julie
    August 14, 2012 - 10:19

    Representation by population is FAIR. Please do not treat one part of the province as more important than another. Why should an Acadian or non-Acadian vote in Yarmouth or Clare or Argyle be worth so much more than the quickly growing Acadian population of Truro-Bible Hill? Or Halifax's growing Acadian population? Why is the vote a minority who lives in the gigantic population of Clayton Park or Bedford worth so much less in the eyes of Churchill and D'Entrement than their own vote?