By Eric Bourque
Representatives of the Acadian community told the commission reviewing Nova Scotia’s provincial electoral boundaries Monday night that the commission got it right the first time.
Like almost everyone else who addressed the commission during a public meeting in a packed Mariners Centre, speakers representing Acadian organizations – including the Conseil acadien de Par-en-Bas (CAPEB) and the Chambre de Commerce d’Argyle Chamber of Commerce – said the commission did the right thing in its first interim report by recommending that the electoral boundaries of Nova Scotia’s minority ridings remain the same.
Norbert LeBlanc, president of CAPEB, said the commission had demonstrated vision and leadership in its first interim report by using the terms of reference given to it as a guide.
The province rejected the commission’s interim report, namely its recommendation to keep the boundaries of Nova Scotia’s so-called protected ridings (Argyle, Clare, Richmond and Preston) unchanged, despite a voter population for each that is well below the provincial average and outside the 25 per cent variance.
The government indicated – after receiving the commission’s first interim report – that the 25 per cent variance was a binding requirement, that no riding should have a population 25 per cent below or above the average for the province. This sent the commission back to work, which, in turn, led to the controversial new boundary recommendations that set the stage for Monday night’s meeting.
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The recommendations of the commission’s revised interim report – making three ridings into two by creating a Yarmouth-Argyle constituency and a Clare-Yarmouth one – are completely unacceptable, LeBlanc said in his presentation to the commission.
Like other speakers, LeBlanc said the commission’s revised interim report calls into question the independence of the commission. The commission’s hands appeared to be tied, he said, another point raised by other presenters.
The apparent political interference in the workings of what is supposed to be an independent commission is disconcerting and troubling, said Réal Boudreau, speaking on behalf of the Chambre de Commerce d’Argyle Chamber of Commerce.
What the boundaries commission is now proposing – merging the Argyle riding with part of Yarmouth and merging Clare with the other part of Yarmouth – is a step backward for the Acadian community and for the province, he said.
The chamber’s position has not changed from when the commission held its first round of public meetings back in the spring, he said, adding that the chamber wants the status quo for the Argyle, Clare and Yarmouth ridings.
Delivering a similar message was Argyle Warden Aldric d’Entremont, who said the commission should go back to the recommendations of its first interim report and keep the boundaries of the ridings in question as they are.
Referring to what the revised report is suggesting, he said, “It dilutes the Acadian voice to the point of near silence.”
He referred to remarks made during the winter by Graham Steele, Nova Scotia’s Acadian affairs minister at the time, who urged those who were concerned about the future of the province’s minority ridings to let the boundaries commission to its work.
“You demonstrated democracy at its finest,” d’Entremont said, referring to the commission’s first interim report and its support of the status quo for minority ridings. “You can imagine our subsequent disappointment (by the changes recommended in the revised report).”
Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont said the government had demonstrated “blatant disregard for the political process” by the way it set the terms of reference for the boundaries commission.
Father Maurice LeBlanc, another of the evening’s speakers, raised a point that many have touched on since the boundary issue first started making headlines back around the New Year’s holiday. The drawing of electoral boundaries, he said, should be based on more than just numbers.
Note: The Electoral Boundaries Commission is holding a public consultation session Tuesday, Aug. 14 at Université Ste. Anne in Church Point beginning at 6 p.m.