Halifax needs 2 more seats in legislature: report
Electoral boundaries group suggests keeping minority seats
A Nova Scotia commission has recommended that Halifax should receive two new seats and one constituency should be dropped from Cape Breton through revised electoral boundaries.
The Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission also said in a report released Friday that one rural constituency on the mainland should be dropped.
The report said the two new constituencies in the capital should be set up to take into account population growth on the western side of the harbour.
The document is also calling for the retention of four "protected constituencies" of Clare, Argyle, Preston and Richmond.
Preston has a large black population, while the ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond have a high percentage of francophone constituents.
The commission's terms of reference say that all constituencies be within 25 per cent of the average number of electors.
Commission chairwoman Teresa MacNeil said if the eight-member body had strictly followed a term of reference from the legislature, the protected constituencies would have been merged with neighbouring ridings.
"A literal interpretation... would have required to substantially alter the boundaries of the four constituencies within the protected status, and that have been protected for 20 years," she said at a news conference.
"Removal of this protection raised significant social, cultural and political issues."
MacNeil said the commission balanced the population requirement with another term of reference that allows commissioners to take into account that constituencies should reflect linguistic and cultural diversity.
However, Jill Grant, one of the members of the commission, dissented from the majority finding that the protected ridings should be retained.
She said the ridings didn't meet the 25 per cent requirement.
"The commission exceeds its authority in substituting alternative principles to those provided by the government of the province," she wrote.
"I believe the legislature is the appropriate body to debate the relative merits and implications of strategies for effectively representing minority populations."
She said members of the legislature could consider alternatives for preserving the representation of francophones, such as setting up constituencies without specific boundaries.
Grant argued that such systems were a preferable method of representing minority communities, "while securing fair and effective representation for all Nova Scotians."
The commission, appointed last December, said the legislature should continue to have 52 seats.
The eight members will now hold another round of public consultations and issue a final report on Aug. 31.
Francophone groups say they need to maintain political representation
Francophone groups have argued they should keep the three seats in the 52-seat legislature because they roughly represent the percentage of Acadians spread across the province.
Charles Gaudet, the director of the Nova Scotia Acadian Federation, said the Acadian population is declining along with other rural communities, and taking away political representation would have been a blow.
"We're very pleased that the commission chose to protect the rights of minorities and the black community," he said.
Opposition parties speak out against the clause
Opposition parties said the province's majority NDP government should never have insisted on including the clause that imperilled the minority group ridings in the original terms of reference.
Attorney General Ross Landry declined an interview request, but he said in a news release he would meet privately with MacNeil to discuss the report.
"The final report must meet the terms of reference as set out by the House of Assembly," said the release.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals issued news releases accusing the NDP of trying to interfere with the independent commission.
"The NDP interfered at the beginning of this process and now they are trying to interfere at the end," said Tory Leader Jamie Baillie.
Liberal Justice critic Michel Samson said it was inappropriate for Landry to meet privately with the commission chairwoman.
"It looks like the justice minister is overstepping the boundaries of what is acceptable," he said.