Digby County is one big provincial riding.
The Nova Scotia Legislature voted 26-22 on Thursday, Dec. 06 to join Digby and Clare in one constituency to be called Clare-Digby.
Sterling Belliveau, NDP member for the former riding of Shelburne and the minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture voted against the legislation; several other NDP members were absent for the vote.
Bill 94 stills needs royal assent but Wayne Gaudet, Liberal MLA for Clare, says he’s hearing the government wants to proclaim it law before the next election. He says the riding associations can't afford to wait for the outcome of a court challenge from the Nova Scotia Acadian Federation (FANE).
“Now that the government has passed this we have to sit down and find a way to make it work,” says the 20-year veteran of the Legislature. “We’ve never had to do this before and we’re going to have to analyse the new landscape and come up with a plan.”
He himself hasn’t decided if he’ll seek the nomination for the new riding.
“There were a lot of ifs but now that we know, I want to take these couple weeks, look at the lay of the land,” said Gaudet on Saturday, Dec. 8. “I want to analyse what needs to be done and how much time is involved, and decide early in the new year if I want to reoffer or not.”
He says the next MLA for the county will have to be very good at determining priorities.
“I wish along with creating this legislation, they had created a few extra hours in the day,” says Gaudet. “You’re looking at Beaver River to New Edinburgh to Southville, then Bear River and Digby Neck: it’s a large area and diverse but try to explain that to them in Halifax.
“You look at the work you do here at home and you figure you have to cut yourself in half,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of picking and choosing, what can I do, what do I leave aside, not cause I don’t want to do it, but because I just don’t have time.”
Recruiting the right person for a candidate is always extremely difficult he says but this new situation will be extra difficult.
“They are going to have be very flexible, approachable, have to want to work for the people of the county and be able to keep straight all the priorities of the three municipal units in the riding as well,” says Gaudet.
He says the next step is for the riding associations to get together.
“I can’t speak for the other parties but for the Clare Liberal Association, I’d like to see them get together with the Digby-Annapolis association early in the new year for a combined meeting, a foundation meeting,” he says. “We need to figure out how we form a new Clare-Digby Liberal Association, get a new executive formed, and then appoint a nomination committee.”
The current Digby-Annapolis MLA Harold ‘Junior’ Theriault, also a Liberal, announced in June he wouldn’t be reoffering.
Theriault says the NDP government won’t be rushing to hold an election. A Corporate Research Associates survey released last week showed the NDP still trailing the Liberals. The poll, taken in November, showed 41 per cent of decided voters support the Liberals, while only 29 per cent support the governing New Democrats.
Despite his pending retirement, Theriault says he will do what he can to help bring the two riding associations together.
“The important thing is to work together in a way that respects each other’s cultures and interests,” says Theriault. “We’ll have to figure out how we do this and make sure everyone is represented properly.”
Theriault did say he would support Gaudet if he decides to reoffer and seek the new association’s nomination.
“He’s a good man and he’s done a good job representing this part of the province,” said Theriault, Friday, Dec. 7.
Theriault says the people of Clare take “democracy seriously.”
“They went through one expulsion in 1755 and they’re not going to let it happen again,” says Theriault who is of Acadian descent himself. “They come out 80 per cent to vote even when there are no issues.”
Gaudet says the people of the two former ridings have lots in common.
“We’ve been living side by side for generations,” he says. “We’ve been part of the same county forever; people from here shop in Digby, go to the hospital there, there’s lots of family connections, we work on the same job sites, we see each other at social gatherings—it’s not like we’re strangers.
“Now under this new arrangement we have to find a way to make it work.”