By Tina Comeau
The issue of the elimination of protected Acadian ridings is going to court, although a lawyer involved with the process says it will likely take years to see this through and nothing will be settled before the next provincial election.
And possibly not even before the election after that.
The Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE) is following through on its promise to launch legal action against the Nova Scotia government over the elimination of the protected Acadian ridings of Argyle, Clare and Richmond. The FANE said it would file notice with the Crown immediately following the passage of the bill that eliminates the protected ridings. Part of this involves giving the government two months notice.
That bill, the House of Assembly Act, was passed in the Nova Scotia Legislature on Thursday, Dec. 6, by a vote of 26-22.
The Fédération acadienne says it feels that the new boundaries deny the principle of effective representation that had been legitimized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse feels betrayed by the NDP Government, which time and again interfered with the democratic and independent process of the electoral boundary review,” says FANE president Justin Mury. “These interventions by the government effectively silenced the voice of the Acadian people, one of the founding people of our nation, in the Legislative Assembly. As a result, we have no option other than to proceed with legal action in order to protect the hard-earned gains of the Acadian community of our province.”
The court challenge will be launched under the language rights provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Pubnico lawyer Real Boudreau, one of the lawyers who will be working on the FANE’s case – he is also a past president of the organization – says this won’t be a quick court process.
“It can take three or four years before the Supreme Court hears it, if it goes to that point,” says Boudreau, who says first the challenge will have to get past the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. “I can’t see that if we are successful at the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia level that it will not be appealed by the province. Conversely, if we are unsuccessful we will certainly be looking for the resources to go to the Court of Appeal ourselves.”
The House of Assembly Act containing the new boundaries was passed in the Legislature by a vote of 26-22. Both opposition parties voted against it, as did the Shelburne NDP MLA, since the boundaries divide that riding.
Boudreau says the FANE has opted to go with a court challenge as opposed to an injunction because it didn’t think an injunction would be granted since the court would likely decide there is no irreparable harm since boundary decisions can be reversed.
He says the constitutional challenge will argue that the decision of the NDP government infringes on gains that had been made by, and enshrined for, the Acadian community.
Boudreau adds an issue such as this is treated quite seriously by the courts.
“We are challenging a law passed by a duly elected body in our province,” he says. “It’s not something that courts will grant on a whim.”
The FANE says it strongly regrets that the Nova Scotia Government did not take into account the strong objections of the Acadian community regarding the elimination of the three ridings – objections, it says, that were clearly expressed to the province’s electoral boundaries commission and to the government at every possible opportunity.