The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia is proposing the formation of a new riding to be called Cape Breton-Antigonish. On May 31 at 6:30 p.m., Antigonish Town Hall will host a public hearing to discuss the proposed boundary changes.

AMHERST: An upcoming public hearing in Antigonish will discuss proposed changes to federal electoral boundaries.

On Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30 p.m., Antigonish Town Hall will host one of nine in-person public hearings across the province being held by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia.

The commission is proposing the formation of a new riding to be called Cape Breton-Antigonish, with a population of 84,999 that consists of the counties of Antigonish and Richmond, the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, Inverness County, south of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, as well as communities within Cape Breton Regional Municipality in the current Cape Breton-Canso riding.

Led by Justice Cindy A. Bourgeois, who is the chair, the commission also consists of Louise Carbert, Associate Professor of Political Science at Dalhousie University, and David Johnson, Political Science Professor at Cape Breton University.

“I’m a judge with the Court of Appeal of Nova Scotia and I was appointed by the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia,” Bourgeois noted. “The other members, they were appointed by the Speaker of the House and we’re independent. We don’t answer to the government, although Elections Canada gives us lots of assistance in terms of setting up the web site and mapping help.”

As it is mandated to do every 10 years, the commission started its review in February, using the 2021 Census population counts, then the commission announced last month that it will begin the public consultation phase.

“Every 10 years, federal legislation that every riding in the country be reviewed to see if it meets the requirements of law. That corresponds with the every 10-year where they’re counting where people live,” Bourgeois explained. “Once the census is done, that information is passed along to commissions in each province.”

Armed with the census data, Bourgeois said the commission had to distribute 969,383 people among 11 ridings in Nova Scotia, which comes out to an average of 88,126 people in each riding.

“Our job is to look at it and make sure that the ridings are going to have relative voting parity,” she said. “When an MP gets elected for a particular riding, that it’s within an acceptable range of how many people that MP is representing. That’s what we got to look at.”

Once the commission sat down to work on its preliminary proposal, Bourgeois said there were many factors to consider.

“That’s tough and it can make for some very difficult decisions because you can’t just look at math,” she noted. “Some of the other factors that we look at whether things need to be adjusted is, historically what ridings have the communities been in? You don’t want to divide a community right down the middle and put them in separate ridings, because there’s what’s called a community of interest. There may be special reasons why the riding shouldn’t be divided up in a certain way.”

When the commission looked at the current Cape Breton-Canso riding, the population is around 71,000, while Sydney-Victoria has a total of 72,000 people, said Bourgeois.

“Those are the lowest numbers in all of the province, in terms of the number of people living in existing ridings. If the average is supposed to be 88,000 and we have low-70s, and then you have other ridings with 112,000 people in Halifax West, for instance. Central Nova was 73,000 so they were low too. They’re lower than the average,” she stated. “Fewer people are electing those two MPs than ridings elsewhere in the province.”

With parts of the Strait area, like Antigonish town and county, experiencing population growth, while outmigration trends have subsided in other parts of the region, Bourgeois said those trends must be put in context against population growth in other parts of Nova Scotia.

“For every five people that might be moving to Antigonish, 20 are moving to Halifax. Even though Antigonish is growing, Antigonish is probably not going to grow so rapidly that it’s going to offset the growth that’s seen perhaps in Halifax or other areas,” she said. “You look at trends in the future, but you also have to make sure that right now, the weight of their votes are relatively equal, within an acceptable range.”

Because Sydney-Victoria has the lowest population of any riding in the province, Bourgeois was asked why the Glace Bay area was not added to that riding, and Victoria County added to the proposed riding of Cape Breton-Antigonish.

“If you added those to Sydney-Victoria, that number is going to go up pretty high,” she stated. “That means that you’re then taking those same numbers out of what is now Cape Breton-Canso, and I think the result of that is pushing the existing Cape Breton-Canso further into mainland Nova Scotia.”

Aside from the numbers, Bourgeois said there are also First Nation communities to consider in both Cape Breton ridings.

Those interested in making a submission to the commission, should inform them in writing by May 23, and this should include: names, addresses and contact information; the organization being represented; the date of the hearing; a short overview of the issues that will be addressed; and any accommodations that may be required.

The commission can be reached via mail at: Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia, P.O. Box 70071, RPO Cobequid Lower Sackville, NS B4C 2N0. They can be reached by calling: 1-800-361-8935, or email at: NS-NE@redecoupage-federal-redistribution.ca. To fill out the public hearing form or use the interactive mapping tool, go to: https://redecoupage-redistribution-2022.ca/com/ns/phrg/index_e.aspx.

“We want to hear from people,” Bourgeois added. “We’re only three people in a room, maybe we didn’t think of it. That’s the public’s opportunity to say, ‘did you think of this?’ Maybe we didn’t, maybe it’s a great solution, and maybe it works better than what we proposed, and if that’s the case, then that will be given consideration. It’s really important that we get feedback.”