Public to be consulted — again — on minority electoral representation

Public to be consulted — again — on minority electoral representation

The McNeil government has formed an independent commission to consult with Acadians and African-Nova Scotians on effective electoral representation.

The commission will travel around the province to gather feedback from the public on so-called protected ridings and how to encourage minority representation. The body will make recommendations to the government by Nov. 1. 

But the announcement is not sitting well with a group that represents Acadians in the province.

"We are very disappointed by this announcement," said Marie-Claude Rioux, the executive director of the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse.

"We feel that this announcement is a political tactic to slow down the process of creating an electoral boundary commission."

The government has pledged to create a separate electoral boundary commission, but said Friday that won't happen until Jan. 31, 2018. 

Protected ridings eliminated

Electoral boundaries in the province are typically reviewed by an independent commission every 10 years.

The next electoral boundary commission wasn't expected to be established until 2022, but a wrench was thrown into that timeline after Nova Scotia's highest court ruled previous electoral boundary changes eliminating the Acadian ridings were unconstitutional.

The last commission, created in 2011, followed in the footsteps of previous commissions in safeguarding three small protected ridings: Clare, Argyle and Richmond.

But the NDP justice minister at the time, Ross Landry, ordered the commission to instead redraw the map strictly based on population size. The commission then filed a final report in 2012 that saw the Acadian ridings merged with neighbouring communities, effectively eliminating their protected status.

Court challenge

Not long after the new boundaries were confirmed by the legislature in 2012, the Acadian federation began legal action over the changes. In January 2017, a panel of five Appeal Court justices ruled that the new map was unconstitutional.

The federation then threatened further legal action if the government did not act on the ruling. 

Rioux said the interim commission is an unnecessary step, especially since the community was already consulted just four years ago.

"By creating an effective representation commission, it's doubling the time and doubling the consultation with the public."

She said the government should have skipped the interim commission and struck the electoral boundaries commission as soon as the court ruling was issued.

Minister defends wait

Michel Samson, minister of Acadian affairs and Francophonie, said that during the court challenge, the lawyer for the federation said more work needed to be done to determine what effective representation should look like.

"There is no means we could have done this any faster," Samson said Friday. "Our court system is our court system.... It takes time."

Election looming

With an election looming, Rioux said she worries about what will happen to the commission's work.

"What's going to happen if this present government doesn't get re-elected? What happens if there's a new government? … What happens to that commission then? Is there anything that is binding there? We don't see anything that's binding."

Samson said an election will not endanger the commission's work.

"A commission has been struck … and is going to go forward regardless of whether there's an interruption in between its work due to an election. This shows how serious we are of being able to address the matter brought up by the Court of Appeal."

The commission will be chaired by former deputy justice minister Doug Keefe, Université Sainte-Anne vice-president Kenneth Deveau and Sharon Davis-Murdoch, the co-president of the Health Association of African Canadians.