Electoral boundaries commission recommends restoring ridings

HALIFAX: The Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission wants the provincial government to redraw the electoral map to restore the four previously protected electoral districts.

Those districts include the Acadian ridings of Richmond, Clare and Argyle and the predominantly African Nova Scotian riding of Preston, which were eliminated in 2012 by the province’s then NDP government claiming insufficient voters in each district.

“The key issues confronting this commission are essentially those that challenged the previous commissions,” said commission chair Colin Dodds in a November 28 press release. “They are how to balance effective representation of African Nova Scotian and Acadian electors with voter parity and accommodate the ongoing shift of population from rural areas, as well as taking account of the geography of the province.”

The commission’s 84-page interim report titled “Striking a balance between effective representation and voter parity” was released last Wednesday and recommended four options, including designing electoral boundaries with 51 electoral districts in Nova Scotia and drawing electoral boundaries with 55 electoral districts in Nova Scotia, which include the four formerly protected electoral districts of Richmond, Clare, Argyle and Preston.

A third option includes 55 electoral districts in Nova Scotia but 56 seats in the House of Assembly. This would include the dual-member electoral district of Inverness, which would have one MLA to represent the geographic electoral district and one MLA to represent the Acadian constituency.

“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,” the interim report read. “We have drawn boundaries for these electoral districts in a non-partisan and fair manner to encase a concentrated minority. We have deviated from voter parity to favour minorities in the electoral process by increasing the weight of their vote in smaller ridings.”

In establishing these exceptional electoral districts, the commission acknowledges the significance of these minority groups to the province’s history and cultural life. These electoral districts are symbols of recognition, as well as tangible institutional arrangements that are designed to enhance constitutionally protected effective representation.

“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,” Dodds said in his report. “We chose to maintain the four exceptional electoral districts – because these are anchor communities with notable concentrated populations of minority cultural communities.”

The commission’s fourth option is to draw an electoral map with 56 electoral districts and create a new district in Chéticamp.

“An exceptional electoral district for Chéticamp would address effective representation for Chéticamp and surrounding Acadian communities,” the report stated. “It may also inadvertently, and perhaps conveniently, provide boundaries that also benefit the Gaelic cultural community throughout Inverness.”

The commission will begin another round of public consultations on January 4 in Antigonish to take these options to the public for feedback. The terms of reference requires the commission to submit its final report and recommend a single set of boundaries by April 1, 2019 for consideration by the House of Assembly.