By Eric Bourque
Public input will be a big part of the review process for Nova Scotia’s electoral boundaries, says a spokesperson for the commission that will examine the boundaries.
The eight-member commission will conduct public sessions where those who would like to speak to the commission on the boundary issue will have a chance to do so.
The commission also will accept written submissions.
“Input from Nova Scotians will be extremely important during this process and will be a driving force for the work of the commission,” said Teresa MacNeil, the commission’s chairperson, in a media release from the province. “We will work within the terms of reference provided to us by the select committee, but understand there are concerns from Nova Scotian communities. That’s why it is so important that Nova Scotians share their views with us.”
Contacted by the Vanguard Feb. 14, she said the commission was planning to meet in a few days “and schedule-setting for the first round of public hearings is on the agenda.”
While she said she couldn’t be sure, she said she didn’t expect the commission would be on the road until mid-March.
“For certain the schedule will be well-publicized in advance,” she said by email.
The electoral boundary issue heated up a couple of months ago when the NDP majority on the Select Committee on Establishing an Electoral Boundaries Commission decided to do away with special protection for minority ridings, including the Acadian ridings of Argyle, Clare and Richmond.
Previously, these constituencies – along with the African Nova Scotian riding of Preston – had been exempt from a requirement that ridings have a population within 25 per cent of the Nova Scotia average.
The four minority ridings have populations well below the provincial average and well outside the 25 per cent variance, but critics of the decision to do away with protection for these constituencies argue that it should be maintained for linguistic and cultural reasons.
The province has said linguistic and cultural considerations will be taken into account but that all ridings will have to fall within the 25 per cent variance.
Last month the boundary issue was discussed at a regular monthly meeting of Argyle municipal council. After conducting a conference call with Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont and Ron Robichaud, president of the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE), council passed a motion supporting the Acadian federation in its efforts to maintain protection for Nova Scotia’s minority ridings. The municipality later prepared a resolution saying it “strongly” opposes the select committee’s decision regarding minority constituencies and the 25 per cent requirement.
Eliminating or combining Acadian seats would have “devastating negative impacts on the voice and the vote of the Acadian minority,” the resolution said.
Among other things, the resolution spoke of the Acadian culture and language in the affected ridings being “under threat of assimilation by the dominant majority language” and said the boundary issue stands not only to hurt minorities but also to impact negatively “rural Nova Scotia as a whole.”
The resolution also made reference to public meetings held last fall where members of the select committee heard presentations from people who spoke of the importance of protecting “the Acadian voice” in the Nova Scotia legislature. One of those sessions was held in Yarmouth, where presenters said the present system has worked well and should be maintained.
The electoral boundaries commission is to present an interim report by May 31 and a final report by Aug. 31.
By law, a review of Nova Scotia’s electoral boundaries is required after every 10-year census.