Nova Scotia

Riding changes needed to protect an Acadian culture 'in peril,' hearing told

The Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission is proposing changes that include restoring the ridings of Clare, Argyle, Preston and Richmond, which were abolished in 2012.

'Now is the time to fight for our Acadian electoral ridings'

Argyle resident Clyde deViller calls the current boundaries 'a forced marriage that does not work.' (Radio-Canada)

Members of the Acadian community voiced unanimous support for a proposal to reinstate three Acadian ridings at a public meeting in Tusket, N.S., this weekend.

About 20 people gathered Saturday at the community centre for an Electoral Boundaries Commission consultation on changes that include restoring the largely Acadian ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond, along with the predominantly black riding of Preston, which were abolished in 2012.

Marie-Claude Rioux, executive director of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, told the commission she hopes the new plan goes ahead. 

"Now is the time to fight for our Acadian electoral ridings," she said. 

Marie-Claude Rioux, executive director of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, is encouraging people to voice support for the new ridings. (Radio-Canada)

The federation has launched an online video campaign to encourage Acadian residents to participate in the electoral boundary hearings. 

Rioux said the Acadian community has suffered great harm in the past and now it's the time to take steps to repair the damage.

Culture 'in peril'

Speaking at Saturday's meeting, Argyle district resident Clyde deViller called the current riding of Argyle-Barrington, which includes half of the former Shelburne riding, "a forced marriage that does not work." 

The Acadian culture in the Argyle area is "in peril," he said.

"The vitality [of the Acadian community] depends on structures and laws that protect it."

The federation representing the interests of Acadians in Nova Scotia began legal action against the provincial government after the electoral map was changed in 2012. (Jean-Luc Bouchard/Radio-Canada)

At the other end of the province are two proposed scenarios for Ché​ticamp — making it a part of the Richmond riding, or turning Ché​ticamp​ and its surrounding area into a distinct electoral district. 

The commission is also looking for input for its proposal to create new seats in Bedford and Cole Harbour, as well as the creation of a new group that would examine effective representation and voter parity. 

Typically the commission revisits how ridings are drawn every 10 years.

But last year, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled changes made to the province's electoral map that merged Clare, Argyle and Richmond with other ridings violated Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Fédération Acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse launched a court action after the three protected Acadian seats and one protected African-Nova Scotian seat were eliminated in 2012. 

The federation argued drawing boundaries based solely on population size interfered with the Acadian population's ability to elect Acadian members of their communities to represent them in the legislature.

On Saturday, Réal Boudreau, who lives in Argyle and represented the Acadian federal during the court battle, said adding the four ridings respects the ''spirit'' of the court decision. 

Peter Butler, one of eight commissioners who listened to the discussions, said he found people's comments in Tusket "extremely well informed."

Month of hearings

People were "passionate and happy that the commission had looked into some of their concerns and came up with a better plan," he told Radio-Canada on Saturday. "Now whether the legislature will accept the plan, we don't know." 

This month the commission is visiting a dozen communities, including stops in Cape Breton next weekend. It must submit an interim report by Nov. 30 and a final report by Apr. 1, 2019. 

The commission will make recommendations to government and the legislature has to vote on whether to accept them. 

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Radio-Canada's Stephanie Blanchet