Cape Breton MP says fight isn't over on proposed electoral boundary changes
The member of Parliament for Sydney-Victoria is disappointed the federal electoral boundaries commission has rejected his appeal against proposed changes to his Cape Breton riding.
But Liberal MP Jaime Battiste says the fight isn't over, yet.
Battiste, who has a law degree from Dalhousie University, lives on reserve in Eskasoni and has been a treaty adviser to Mi'kmaw First Nations, says boundary changes that take Eskasoni out of the riding are unconstitutional and go against treaty rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"There's several rounds left to this fight. And so I always tell people, I was a boxer and I don't stop fighting until the bell rings, and that's what I'm going to continue to do," he said Thursday.
After a series of public meetings last year, the commission recommended making the sprawling rural-urban Sydney-Victoria riding into one that encompasses just the urban communities around Sydney and Glace Bay.
The change would move Eskasoni — and Wagmatcook First Nation, as well — into another new riding, to be called Cape Breton-Canso-Antigonish.
The existing riding of Cape Breton-Canso is currently held by Liberal MP Mike Kelloway.
Earlier this year, Battiste appealed the proposed changes before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, saying the commission has a constitutional obligation to consult with affected communities.
In a lengthy ruling last month, the federal electoral boundaries commission said it met or exceeded its duty to consult the public.
The commission said its meetings were advertised and covered by local media and it did not have a duty to specifically consult Indigenous people, because it is not the Crown, it is an independent body designed to be separate from the government.
The commission also said several Supreme Court of Canada rulings back up its decision.
"It is unfortunate Mr. Battiste did not take note of the media reports relating to the commission's work and disseminate it to his constituents," the commission said.
"His failure to do so does not equate to a breach of procedural fairness by the commission."
Mi'kmaw officials considering judicial review
Battiste said he feels like he is being targeted and Mi'kmaw officials with Eskasoni and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs are considering requesting a judicial review.
"If we allow it to happen, what kind of message does that send to any other First Nations MPs who are from reserves ... that you can win an election, you can be re-elected, but an electoral boundary commission can make a ruling and make your chances of getting re-elected difficult?" Battiste said.
"And taking an entire reserve out of the riding that you represent? It's pretty suspicious."
Battiste said the commission's arguments are weak.
Battiste claims 'systemic racism'
"When you're looking at systemic racism as a whole, you know the fact that they said, 'we know we could of, we know we should of, but we didn't because we didn't have to,' I think that's something that we need to look at and say, 'is that really how we move forward in Canada?'" Battiste said.
The commission made reference to the treaties, but it was "selective" in the articles it cited, he added.
"The 1752 treaty has a clause, Article 8, that says any disputes between the Mi'kmaw nation and the Crown shall be settled in the courts."
Boundary changes across Canada are expected to take effect for the next general election after April 1, 2024.
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