Commission supports return of protected Acadian, African-Nova Scotian seats
Proposed electoral boundaries options include increasing number of seats at Province House to 55 or 56
The group looking at electoral boundaries in Nova Scotia is recommending the restoration of protected seats for the Acadian and African-Nova Scotian communities, while also acknowledging population growth in the Halifax area and regional differences in rural areas.
The Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission released its interim report Wednesday and it includes four potential scenarios:
- Draw boundaries so the current 51 electoral districts remain in place.
- Draw boundaries so there would be 55 districts, including the four formerly protected seats of Argyle, Clare, Preston and Richmond.
- Draw boundaries so there would be 55 districts but 56 seats, including a dual-member district in Inverness to cover the geographic area and local Acadian community.
- Draw boundaries for 56 districts, including the four formerly protected seats and a new one for the district of Cheticamp.
'Truly effective representation'
While the options include one that would maintain the same 51 seats — something required by the commission's terms of reference — the report says the commission does not favour that option.
"We conclude that the four formerly protected electoral districts should be restored, at the very least, in some version that would provide truly effective representation," reads the report.
"We feel that it is important to use this opportunity to continue to foster and protect these communities so that they can continue to develop and survive."
The report says the commission reached that position after considering several factors, including the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision regarding the dissolution of the protected seats.
Acadian group challenged decision
The province's Acadian federation originally challenged the decision by the former NDP government to do away with the seats in 2012. A subsequent report chaired by former deputy justice minister Doug Keefe also addressed the issue, calling for a restoration of the seats.
The province's Acadian federation welcomed the interim report Wednesday. In a news release, federation president Norbert LeBlanc said the commission has highlighted the importance of protected districts.
"We did not receive a lot of positive feedback on that," commission chair Colin Dodds told reporters.
Dodds said the commission's options attempt to balance demographics with geography and effective representation, and reflect what they've heard from a series of public meetings.
While the most obvious proposed changes relate to the protected districts, there are other notable changes.
Addressing population growth
In an attempt to address population growth in the Halifax area, the 55- and 56-seat scenarios would see the district of Bedford split into two seats: Bedford Basin and Bedford South.
A district called Cole Harbour-Dartmouth would also be created to address the growth in the current districts of Dartmouth South and Cole Harbour-Portland Valley.
And in an attempt to better align with community boundaries, the 55- and 56-seat scenarios would also include the restoration of dedicated seats for Shelburne and Queens.
The commission will now take these options to the public for feedback, beginning with meetings in January, before delivering a final report in April.
Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d'Entremont, who represented Argyle at the time the protected districts were cancelled, said the commission has done a good job, but noted it's a "first step in the process."
D'Entremont said he believes the report answers the concerns coming from the Acadian community while also adjusting for population changes in the Halifax area.
"I'm very comfortable that they're listening to what the community is saying to them," he said.
He's hoping the government remains committed to its promise to let the commission do its work and abide by whatever comes from the final report.