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.

Now that a review of federal electoral boundaries is underway, this is the time to take the Glace Bay area from the current Cape Breton-Canso riding.

Strait area residents will have their say at an upcoming public hearing on Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30 p.m. Antigonish Town Hall will host one of nine in-person public hearings being held across the province by the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia.

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.

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, but unfortunately containing CBRM communities within the current Cape Breton-Canso riding.

Led by Justice Cindy A. Bourgeois, who is commission 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. Bourgeois, a Nova Scotia Court of Appeals Judge, said she was appointed by the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, while Carbert and Johnson were appointed by the Speaker of the House.

As it is mandated to do every 10 years by federal legislation, the independent 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.

Armed with Census 2021 data, Bourgeois said the commission now has to distribute 969,383 people among 11 ridings in Nova Scotia, which comes out to an average of 88,126 people in each riding.

Once the commission sat down to work on its preliminary proposal, Bourgeois said there were many factors to consider, one of the most important being “relative voting parity.”

When the commission looked at the current Cape Breton-Canso riding, the population is around 71,000, Central Nova is approximately 73,000, while Sydney-Victoria has a total of 72,000 people, which Bourgeois confirmed were the “lowest numbers” 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 higher population growth in other parts of Nova Scotia.

Because Sydney-Victoria has the lowest population of any riding in the province, Bourgeois said adding Glace Bay area to a proposed CBRM riding, and Victoria County to Cape Breton-Antigonish might push the boundaries of the proposed riding further into mainland Nova Scotia, namely the Eastern Shore.

Bourgeois said the commission’s task involves more than math, there are considerations like historic communities of interest, and in Cape Breton alone, there are a number of First Nation communities which must be considered.

While there is an argument to be made about the current Cape Breton-Antigonish riding, it could be tweaked by adding Victoria County, as well as the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, while eliminating the CBRM communities.

This way the CBRM would form one federal riding; a proposal that is sure to gain support in that part of the island.

Yes, this move would create a geographically large riding, but it’s a natural partnership that will benefit people, communities, businesses, and groups.

When Glace Bay and area was originally lumped into the riding of Cape Breton Highlands-Canso, there was almost universal opposition to the move from politicians, organizations, and residents around the Strait area.

The main point of contention was there were no connections – historic, economic, social, or otherwise – between the CBRM, and the counties of Richmond, Inverness, Guysborough, and Antigonish. And that remains the case to this day.

There are links between communities in Victoria County and the CBRM, as both share a centre for education, and many people from Victoria County work, live, and shop in the nearby population centre. The fact there are large First Nations communities in Victoria County, also complicates this move.

Despite those factors, it cannot be disputed that Victoria County and the District of St. Mary’s are rural areas with robust fishing, forestry, and agriculture industries, and both rely on the tourism sector, like almost every part of the Strait area.

There is more that unites Victoria County and the District of St. Mary’s with the riding of Cape Breton-Antigonish, than what divides them.

It’s time to end the awkward relationship imposed on the people of the Strait area, and return the people of the Glace Bay area to a riding they and everyone else want and need.