It was good to see the end of a long political and legal fight to overturn ill-conceived and indefensible changes to Nova Scotia’s electoral boundaries.
On January 24, 2017, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal concluded that a 2012 change to the province’s electoral boundaries – which involved joining Richmond County with the Town of Port Hawkesbury and parts of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) – violated Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Then on April 15, Nova Scotia’s Electoral Boundaries Commission released its final report calling for the restoration of the Acadian electoral district of Richmond and for the Town of Port Hawkesbury to be reunited with the riding of Inverness, the same riding to which it belonged prior to the boundary review seven years ago.
Commission members were appointed in July 2018 by an all-party Select Committee of the House of Assembly and were provided with broad terms of reference, largely drawn from the report of the Keefe Commission.
In the November interim report, following a province-wide consultative process, the commission presented four alternatives. These included keeping the present 51 electoral districts, 55 electoral districts, 55 with dual representation for Inverness County, and 56 to include an exceptional electoral district for Chéticamp.
For the final report, the commission’s terms of reference mandated that only one set of boundaries be recommended. Using information from the public meetings and from Elections Nova Scotia, the commission, by majority, recommended a House of Assembly of 55 seats. The commission did not recommend Chéticamp as an exceptional district.
The final report can be found on-line at: http://nselectoralboundaries.ca.
Back in 2012, then Premier Darrell Dexter ignored the recommendations of the independent, non-partisan commission by joining Richmond County with Port Hawkesbury and areas of the CBRM bordering Richmond County.
Late dubbed Cape Breton-Richmond, the riding illogically lumped together communities with little in common, removed the town from a riding in which it was happy to be apart, and arbitrarily gathered small communities on the periphery of the CBRM to create an unwieldly riding that forced rushed changes among the other ridings in the CBRM.
Rather than admit fault, the NDP government doubled-down by continuing to legally and politically defend their gerrymandering, which at the time and still to this day, seemed intended to increase the chances of the New Democrats electing more MLAs from the Strait area.
Most importantly, the changes in 2012 completely ignored the constitutionally protected rights of Acadians across Richmond County and Nova Scotia.
It sent the message that these entrenched rights can be jettisoned when it suits the government of the day, and this case proved that even legal recognition of these rights takes many years to be confirmed.
Given that these legal rights were eventually upheld in court, and that the unconstitutional changes were reversed, hopefully this will be a lesson for current and future governments looking to shoe-horn electoral changes with no other purpose than the fulfillment of short-term political goals.
Essentially, these political games obliterated the enshrined rights of thousands of Nova Scotians through unilateral actions.
This demonstrates why this process has to be non-partisan, independent and reliant on laws and data only.