Nova Scotia

Electoral group to rethink protected N.S. ridings

The chair of the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission says they're willing to go back to the drawing board when it comes to protected ridings in the province.

The chair of the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission says they're willing to go back to the drawing board when it comes to protected ridings in the province.

Earlier this week, Premier Darrell Dexter said the commission had violated its mandate by recommending the provincial government retain the four ridings for francophone and black minority groups.

Dexter said the Electoral Boundaries Commission should have obeyed its terms of reference that require constituencies be within 25 per cent of the average number of electors — a criteria none of the minority group ridings meet.

Teresa MacNeil told CBC News the seven members of the commission had a teleconference call on Tuesday night to discuss the public rebuke of the commission's interim report, released last week.

"We've been reminded that those terms of reference are not anything that we would use as a guide," she said Wednesday.

"At the end of the day, it has been made very clear that our report won't be acceptable if we don't heed to those totally."

The four protected constituencies are 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.

Final report due Aug. 31

In December, an all-party committee of the legislature recommended new rules that would change provincial electoral boundaries and require all ridings to have roughly the same number of voters.

It wasn't unanimous, however. Progressive Conservative and Liberal members of the committee were against the plan.

Francophone groups argued they should keep their existing three seats in the 52-seat legislature because they roughly represent the percentage of Acadians spread across the province.

The controversy prompted one commission member to resign her position, saying the group had "failed in our duty to the province" by ignoring the terms of reference.

MacNeil said the remaining members of the commission will do their "level best" to adhere to the 25 per cent rule in its final report.

"We're going to work really hard to achieve that and we will — I would like to think — if we can, possibly, at all," she said.

"The whole point is to achieve fair and effective representation of each and every voter. That is the purpose of this exercise and of course the problem we're having is how to do that, how to assign that kind of equity across all of the constituencies."

MacNeil said there will be another round of public consultations before the committee submits its final report on Aug. 31.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia's opposition leaders said the NDP government should stop interfering with the independent commission.

Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil said the premier should back off and that the commission is reflecting the view of Nova Scotians they heard in public hearings.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the NDP are the authors of their own misfortune because they refused to listen to the opposition's objections last year. Baillie said the governing party imposed their will on the commission and that has backfired.

With files from The Canadian Press