Acadian group vows more court action if province won't change electoral map

A group representing Acadians in Nova Scotia says it will go to court as soon as possible in an effort to reinstate three so-called protected Acadian ridings eliminated by the previous NDP government in 2012.

With rumours of an election call coming sooner rather than later, the threat has put the group on a legal collision course with the McNeil government.

In January of this year, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruled the changes that eliminated the three ridings — by redrawing boundary maps based on population — were unconstitutional.

On Monday, the Fédération Acadienne de la Nouvelle-Ecosse (FANE) released its response to that ruling by demanding the boundaries be changed before the next election.

Seeking court orders

The federation is asking the current Liberal government to seek a court order confirming the unconstitutionality of the 2012 boundaries. If the province won't, the federation said it will.

It would also seek another order that would allow an electoral boundaries commission two years to redraw the map to reinstate the primarily Acadian ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond.

But Richmond MLA and Acadian affairs and Francophonie Minister Michel Samson said the government feels court action would be counterproductive because the two sides are still in talks.

"We see [court orders] as completely unnecessary, especially since we basically agree, for the most part, on a process, that would achieve all that they are asking to achieve," Samson told reporters. "Why the federation is now asking to go back to court when we're still in the middle of discussions is beyond me.

"It took almost three years for this reference question to be answered by the court so it's clearly not a time-friendly process to say the least."

Protected status eliminated

Following Samson's comments, the president of the federation said his group will begin preparing to go to court to have the boundaries declared unconstitutional.

"We are willing to go to court as soon as we can," said Ghislain Boudreau. "Of course it depends with the court on the dates but we'll be working with them to establish that as quickly as possible." 

An NDP government redrew the map based on population and merged three Acadian ridings — eliminating their protected status.

'Pandora's box'

Earlier Monday, federation executive director Marie-Claude Rioux told a news conference the Acadian ridings must be back before the next election.

"I don't think it's in the government's best interest to call an election before this issue is resolved. It opens a whole Pandora's box," she said.

She contends all legislation passed by a legislature elected using unconstitutional boundaries is invalid.

Opposition leaders weigh in

Nova Scotia's opposition party leaders agreed Monday the map must be redrawn before the next election.

"The election ought to be fought on grounds consistent with the charter decision of the Nova Scotia court," said NDP Leader Gary Burrill.

"We have a real problem because an election is coming and Nova Scotians, all of us want to know that it's legit," said leader of the Official Opposition, Jamie Baillie.

No time to redraw the map this year

The Progressive Conservative leader said all three political parties must be involved in discussions to accommodate the court ruling.

Samson dismissed the possibility that a boundaries commission with members of the opposition parties could reinstate the three ridings in a one-day session, claiming the opposition would never cooperate.

"I don't know if you've met our opposition leaders here in Nova Scotia but if you think we can do anything in a day here in Nova Scotia with our current opposition, that's entirely impossible," Samson said.

The court of appeal does not have the authority to redraw the map because that is left to the government.

Premier Stephen McNeil has said there is not enough time to change boundaries this year.