Proposed Halifax boundary changes would reunite Black neighbourhoods
UARB to hold public hearing on changes in 2023
Proposed boundary changes for polling districts in the Halifax municipality would unite longstanding Black communities in the area while giving others a stronger voice to push for changes, residents say.
Regional council approved new boundaries for the city's 16 polling districts last week that were proposed by a committee of staff and residents, who had gathered feedback from councillors and members of the public.
Longtime Beaver Bank resident Victor Cobb said he was happy to see his area would leave District 14 and join Lower Sackville to become the only two communities in District 15.
"It seems like a lot of times our requests fall on deaf ears and I'm thinking, being amalgamated with Lower Sackville, it's gonna provide a little bit more punch," said Cobb, who is chair of the Beaver Bank Community Awareness Association.
He hopes the move would also mean less competition for municipal funds, and would bring more focus to reviving plans for a Beaver Bank bypass.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, there was talk of creating a connection from Highway 101 to the Beaver Bank Road to ease traffic congestion. At one point, the province sought public input for the idea, and an environmental assessment. But the project has been "null and void" since 2002.
Traffic is only getting worse as new subdivisions are built in the area, Cobb said, and there remains only one road in and out of the community and it runs through Lower Sackville.
"I don't want to see Beaver Bank turn into the Hammonds Plains Road. That's a nightmare, that whole road at supper time or in the morning," Cobb said.
The move would also hopefully help strengthen community-based emergency plans in the area for seniors or vulnerable people, he said, and would dovetail with Lower Sackville's strategies for operating warming centres when needed.
The Utility and Review Board (UARB) requires that all Nova Scotia municipalities review their districts every eight years, and take various criteria into account like population changes and communities of interest.
Various areas would be reunited under the changes, including longstanding Black communities that already have strong ties.
East and North Preston would move from the large rural District 2, where it currently sits with Eastern Shore communities, and would instead join Cherry Brook and Lake Loon in District 4. A new District 14 would bring together Lucasville and Upper Hammonds Plains alongside the rest of the Hammonds Plains area.
Coun. David Hendsbee of District 2 said that bringing the entire Preston Township together again "makes perfect sense" from a historical, cultural and planning standpoint. But he said he was sorry to see the Prestons move out of his district, since he's represented that area for roughly 30 years throughout various boundary changes.
Dartmouth's Woodlawn community is currently split in two, but would be brought together in District 6 with areas of Penhorn and Manor Park also newly added.
Ian Lawless of the Woodlawn Residents' Association said their community surveys have shown that residents are looking for more ways to come together, and there is a need for public spaces besides churches, which aren't always inclusive.
"Having community spaces really sets people up to organize and come together in a way that they can influence local policy and local government to bring resources that are needed," Lawless said.
Other changes would see District 8, Halifax Peninsula North, become more representative of the North End by adding the remainder of streets like Gottingen and Brunswick that lie south of Cornwallis Street to the Citadel and Cogswell. It would also move some west end streets that had been in District 8 over to District 9.
But the key factor the boundary committee had to keep in mind was ensuring each district contains roughly the same number of electors (citizens who can vote). The UARB requests that those numbers stay within 10 percent of the average.
Since the last boundary review in 2011, Halifax's voter pool had grown 12.7 per cent — from 330,302 to 372,203 — as of 2021. This boosted the average number of electors per district from 20,644 to 23,263.
Although District 1 (Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley) would remain one of the largest geographically, under the new changes it would have by far the fewest electors, at 23.9 per cent below the average.
But the staff report on the boundaries said residents spoke up loudly about the need to keep an inland rural district separate from the Eastern Shore, and noted that Fall River will likely keep growing.
"There's a little risk … because the numbers are lower than what is recommended, so we hope that we look at what is the community of interest and the fit," area councillor Cathy Deagle-Gammon said during council.
On the other end of the spectrum, Bedford is staying mostly intact in District 16 and will have the highest number of electors at 16.2 per cent over the average (or about 27,000 total electors).
Other districts are hovering just outside the 10 per cent range under the new boundaries, including: Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore (-10.9 per cent), Dartmouth Centre (10.4 per cent), Timberlea-Beechville-Clayton Park (10.6 per cent), and Hammonds Plains-St. Margaret's (-12.5).
Council praised the boundary committee for how well they responded to concerns throughout the process. Many said that while no district was perfect, it was the best outcome given all the criteria they had to work with.
"What we saw was a willingness to listen," Mayor Mike Savage said during council. "This has been an amazing process and I think it would well be worth replicating at provincial and federal levels."
Councillors and the public will have one more chance to weigh in on the changes when the UARB holds a public hearing, which will likely be this spring, according to city staff.
The UARB will then decide whether to accept the boundaries or send Halifax council back to the drawing board.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.