By Tina Comeau
Yarmouth Liberal MLA Zach Churchill told members of the province’s electoral boundaries commission that if the review of boundaries is about population then Yarmouth shouldn’t be one of the ridings in the province to be eliminated.
With 12,900 electors the riding of Yarmouth, he said, is at the desirable level of electors. But because this process has become one centred on population numbers – and the ridings of Argyle and Clare with electoral numbers of 6,400 and 6,500 don’t meet the population thresholds as set out by the NDP government’s terms of reference – the proposal in the commission’s revised interim report is to split up the Yarmouth riding and merge parts of it with Argyle and parts of it with Clare.
“I read the argument that since people come to the hospital and shop in Yarmouth it makes sense to do this,” he said. In an interview printed in the Vanguard, commission chair Teresa MacNeil had said this was one of the considerations of the commission when trying to determine if Argyle and Clare should be merged with parts of a divided Yarmouth riding.
“I can’t go to the movies without seeing someone from Cape Island or Barrington. Does that make it right to cut our community in two because members of the other communities do business and shop here?” questioned Churchill at the Aug. 13 public session that drew a crowd of around 2,500. “The fact that we are large enough to be the service centre for the region indicates to me that we are large and important enough to have a seat in the Legislature.”
He said if the issue is population then the commission should be addressing the regions that don’t have the population numbers – options, he said, that “don’t rip Yarmouth in two.”
“You have to understand that there is a very real sense here that our community is under siege by the powers that be. It has been a challenging time for all of us and we have had our collective morale and confidence shaken unlike any other time in recent memory,” Churchill said. “At a time when we’re down, we feel like we’re being kicked again. At a time when we need our collective community interests represented, you propose to take it away. It’s plain and simply wrong to do this.
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“Our Acadian neighbours don’t feel this is the way to go and don’t want to see Yarmouth cut in two. This proposal meets no one’s goals and it is clearly something that the majority of people vehemently oppose.”
He also said the proposal will create a very divisive situation at a time when this area needs to be united.
“You will have two communities who believe their ridings should be protected and one who feels they’ve been attacked and cut in two,” he said. “Resentment does not bring people close to their democracy or each other, it pushes us away and apart from one another.”
Churchill informed the commission that there were around 6,000 signatures on a written petition that calls for keeping the Yarmouth riding intact. Another 1,000 names were on the online version of the same petition.
“We had a premier ask you to ignore the voices of the people, to disregard our will. I ask you in this circumstance to do the opposite,” said Churchill. “To listen to us and act on our behalf. Because you have a choice, you can either ignore our voice and push this community and our neighbours down further or you can demonstrate to us that when it comes to the will of the people, nothing matters more. I humbly ask for you to stand with us, do what’s right and keep Yarmouth united.”