Mixed feelings as election boundary review looms for Cape Breton riding

·3 min read
The proposed redistribution of federal electoral districts shows Cape Breton–Canso expand west to include Antigonish town and county, and would be renamed Cape Breton–Antigonish.  (Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia - image credit)
The proposed redistribution of federal electoral districts shows Cape Breton–Canso expand west to include Antigonish town and county, and would be renamed Cape Breton–Antigonish. (Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia - image credit)

Nova Scotia is getting a new federal electoral map — and public meetings are underway to get input on the proposed boundary changes that will see Cape Breton-Canso riding expand west to include Antigonish town and county.

The Central Nova riding would cease to exist and the new riding would be named Cape Breton-Antigonish.

But Cape Breton University political science professor Tom Urbaniak told Information Morning Cape Breton the possible boundary changes may not adequately represent rural populations.

"I believe that would move the centre of gravity of the current Cape Breton–Canso riding to infrastructure-rich Antigonish," Urbaniak said. "So it is a fundamental change."

Population increases in Metro Halifax — and decreases in Cape Breton and the eastern mainland — have led to a ripple effect of boundary changes to ensure votes in each riding carry the same weight.

The commission wants to maintain populations of about 88,000 in each riding.

"I'm very sympathetic to the commission's task," said Urbaniak, noting that the proposed area is "geographically unwieldy."

"It's a riding of very different economies, different language and cultural communities," he said.

Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC
Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC

Always a challenge

Rodger Cuzner is a former Liberal MP for Cape Breton-Canso, says boundary changes are always controversial.  "It's always a challenge, there's no doubt about that."

"When I first got going, it was Bras d'Or-Cape Breton. Before that, it was Cape Breton–East Richmond," Cuzner said.

But he doesn't think adding Antigonish County to the riding is a bad thing.

"I think the folks are pretty much the same. You know, it's about fishing and farming and family and fiddles," he said. "We're not that different."

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Cuzner said one challenge future MPs might face is meeting with new community groups in a geographically vast riding. But he said it's no more difficult than visiting constituents in densely populated urban cities.

"Some of the downtown ridings in the greater Toronto area might only be three blocks by three blocks, but they go up 40 and 50 and 60 stories," he said.

"So we spend a lot of windshield time where they spend a lot of elevator time."

Public consultations until June 28

The first of nine public meetings seeking feedback on possible boundary changes took place in Sydney on Monday evening.

Justice Cindy Bourgeois of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal chairs the three-member electoral boundaries commission. She said five people presented for the commission.

"The predominant theme that we heard was that there was a desire to have the two ridings in Cape Breton reflect a rural riding and to reflect an urban riding, which would see our proposed boundaries in Cape Breton shifting somewhat," said Bourgeois.

"That's really the strong message that we were given by the presenters."

Seven public meetings are set to take place throughout June in Antigonish, Truro, Kentville, Yarmouth, Bridgewater, Cole Harbour, and Lower Sackville. A separate virtual meeting will be held June 27 for anyone unable to attend a community meeting.

"A proposal that makes sense for a particular location, of course, will be considered," said Bourgeois.

Bourgeois said the deadline for written submissions has been extended to June 28.

The current federal redistribution process began in October 2021. Changes will not come into effect until April 2024 at the earliest, according to the commission's website.

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