GRAND ANSE: The people of Richmond County want their riding back.
On September 14 at the Louisdale and Area Fire Hall in Grand Anse, residents and representatives of various organizations unanimously called for the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission to restore the riding of Richmond.
The first speakers of the evening were from the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia (LaFANE). Acting president Norbert LeBlanc said the former NDP government violated the rights of Acadians by eliminating ridings like Richmond and creating what is now Cape Breton-Richmond.
“We feel what happened in 2012 was wrong,” LeBlanc said. “The decision of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal was two-fold; in one instance, they said it was unconstitutional. It didn’t respect the Charter of Rights. And secondly, they said the Attorney General of the day did wrong.”
LeBlanc noted that support for Acadian ridings is strong across Nova Scotia and LaFANE is clear that they want all Acadian ridings restored, and they want Cheticamp to become its own riding.
“That’s been our position for the past two or three years, we’re quite united on that front,” LeBlanc said after the meeting.
“We’re looking for something brand new. The people of Cheticamp are far away, they have managed the struggles over the years, they have managed to preserve their language and their cultural identify, and we feel strongly that with the surrounding areas of Cheticamp, they should have their own protected riding. It would probably be the smallest one in the province, but let’s face it, there has to be the largest one, and there has to be the smallest one too.”
The next speaker, Yvon Samson, president of Société La Picasse in Petit de Grat, also told the commission he wants the riding of Richmond returned to its original protected status.
“Richmond, traditionally, has been an Acadian district for many years, and has an Acadian population, and many people have roots from the Acadian people,” Samson said following the meeting. “The reason why they have protected areas is to make sure there’s a voice in the legislature from a community that has the need to have a voice.”
Unlike LaFANE, Samson prefers to remain neutral on the options for Cheticamp, reasoning that is an issue for the people of that area to decide. However, Samson does not support joining that part of Inverness County with Richmond County in one riding.
“There are challenges to that, I mean you’re talking about a geographically spread-out area. We don’t necessarily know each other that well,” Samson said.
As for the idea of an Acadian member-at-large, Samson and LaFANE do not support that option.
“We do not want at all to talk about members-at-large,” LeBlanc told The Reporter. “We don’t find that members-at-large answers the question of effective representation. How can an MLA from Clare defend the concerns of local people, in Richmond as far as roads, education, health care, justice issues? It’s a different reality. They don’t know the people to begin with, whereas the local MLAs know the people.”
Former Richmond Warden Richie Cotton told the commission he also wants Richmond County made into one riding, but does not support the concept of an Acadian member-at-large, nor connecting the Cheticamp area with the riding of Richmond.
Also supporting the riding of Richmond option was one of the last speakers of the evening, former Conseil scolaire acadian provincial official Cetus David.
After gathering public feedback, the commission has to submit its preliminary report to Premier Stephen McNeil by November 30 and the final report has to be complete by April 1.