Premier could face legal fight if election called with current electoral map

The Official Opposition has put Premier Stephen McNeil on notice that he may face a legal challenge if he calls an election before the current electoral map can be properly redrawn to satisfy a recent appeal court decision declaring that it violated the Charter rights of Acadian groups.

The Nova Scotia government is in talks with the organization that represents Acadian groups in the province, Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse, to see what changes might be acceptable to the group.

Earlier this year, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal sided with the federation and found a 2012 move by the previous government to strip the electoral map of special protection afforded three Acadian ridings violated Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That section states, "Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein."

No election has been called. But if one is and changes to the map have not yet been made to conform with the ruling, PC Leader Jamie Baillie said his party is willing fight the government.

"We will look at all the legal means available to us as an Opposition party and to all of the people that are affected to stop them from running what's clearly an illegal election," he said Thursday. "The courts have been very clear on that."

Acadian voice 

The Fédération acadienne challenged the previous NDP government's interference in what is supposed to be an independent process. It began legal action not long after the new boundaries were confirmed by the legislature.

The case involves three small so-called protected ridings, originally conceived to give the Acadian communities concentrated in Clare, Argyle and Richmond a stronger voice and a greater ability to elect Acadian members from their communities.

The Liberal minister now responsible for the file, Michel Samson, has repeatedly refused to discuss publicly what the government's position is. He kept to that stance following Thursday's cabinet meeting.

"It's the Acadian federation that brought forward this case," he told reporters. "Obviously, I think it's more than appropriate that they be the ones that we would have these discussions with and obviously the outcome of those discussions will be shared with all Nova Scotians."

'This is gerrymandering by other means'

Baillie was quick to condemn the secrecy.

"That is as disgraceful as the old days when lines literally were drawn in the back room, said Baille. "This is gerrymandering by another means. When a government picks the boundaries that work for them that is as old fashioned and unfair and illegal as has ever happened in Nova Scotia's sad history." 

Baillie said the only way forward was to start the process to redraw the map using established rules and procedures.

"The legislature has to be recalled and we have to set up a tripartite committee to draw the boundaries like we always do so that people can have confidence that they're fair."

'I'm prepared to run on those boundaries'

NDP Leader Gary Burrill agreed.

"An election shouldn't be conducted on the basis of unconstitutional boundaries," he said. "And therefore the system we have for establishing boundaries should be instituted. There's lots of time to do it."

But the premier took a different view.

"At the time I'm ready to go to the polls, whatever those boundaries look like, I'll be prepared to run on those boundaries," said McNeil.