Minister rejects opposition demands to step aside

ARICHAT: A local MLA is rejecting opposition calls to step down as Minister of Acadian Affairs as the status of protected ridings remains unknown heading into the provincial election.

Last week, the Progressive Conservatives’ Acadian Affairs critic Chris d’Entremont called on Cape Breton Richmond MLA Minister Michel Samson to step aside as the lead on the electoral boundaries issue because, d’Entremont states, it conflicts with Samson’s responsibilities as Minister of Acadian Affairs.

“He can’t be an advocate for the Acadian community and punish them at the same time,” stated d’Entremont in a press release. “[Samson] has proven time and time again that he will choose his party’s political interest instead of standing up for the Acadian community. He can’t be McNeil’s puppet and stand up for the community at the same time. It’s just not working.”

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The PC MLA stated that the province’s Acadian community needs to know they have a minister who will protect their interests.

“The McNeil Liberals have proven they are only interested in protecting their election timeline, not the constitutional rights of Acadians,” says d’Entremont. “At least stepping aside would be the honourable thing to do.”

On January 24, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal concluded a 2012 change to Nova Scotia’s electoral boundaries violated Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by altering of the electoral district of Preston, as well as the Acadian ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond. At the time, Samson said he planned to meet with La fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (La FANE) to discuss the next steps in the process. He also said restarting the electoral boundary process with a new commission could take up to a year or longer.

Following d’Entremont’s comments, Samson said he met with La FANE two weeks ago.

“We had what I thought was a positive discussion to talk about the fact that our government is committed to working with them and working with the African Nova Scotia community to determine exactly what is effective representation for the Acadian and African Nova Scotian communities in 2017,” said Samson. “Is it a return to the four protected ridings that existed, or are there other options the community would like to see a new boundaries commission explore?”

Samson said it is Premier Stephen McNeil’s decision on when to call an election so he can’t say if the boundary issue will be solved before Nova Scotians go to the polls.

“You can’t simply say ‘I’m going to put back four ridings,’” said Samson. “By doing so, you’re affecting dozens of neighbouring ridings that would have to be reconfigured. Anyone who suggested this can easily be done, it can’t. Secondly, no government should be deciding what electoral boundaries should be. The whole reason we got into this mess was because the previous government interfered in the independent process.”