By Tina Comeau
Whether they spoke in French, or whether they spoke in English, all of the 24 presentations made to a provincial electoral boundaries commission in Argyle on April 19 all spoke the same language and delivered the same message.
Do not, the commission was told, eliminate the provincial riding of Argyle and the special protection that exists for the Acadian and African Nova Scotia minority ridings in the province.
Presenters urged the commission members to find the courage to maintain the status quo, saying more than just numbers have to be taken into account when it comes to representation in the Nova Scotia Legislature.
The terms of reference that have been set up for the commission includes a requirement clause for the populations of all ridings in the province to fall within 25 per cent of the Nova Scotia average. Argyle does not meet that threshold. Previously, the minority ridings in the province had been exempt from the 25 per cent variance rule.
“First and foremost, the Municipality of Argyle strongly opposes any changes to the existing riding and urges the commission to maintain the status quo for our boundaries,” said Argyle CAO Alain Muise, who said clause 2(D) in the terms of reference reduces the electoral boundaries issue to a mathematical equation, and it shouldn’t be, he and others said. People absolutely reject this clause.
“It is our firm belief that our Acadian representation is an essential representation for Nova Scotia,” said Muise. “While our riding does not meet the mathematical test, we argue that this test, while important, should not be the only and overriding factor in the commission’s decision.”
Around 200 people turned out for the public meeting, which was held in the gymnasium of Ecole Secondarie de Par-en-Bas. As speakers spoke people applauded and proudly waved Acadian flags. Many segments of the Acadian population were represented by the presentators, including: museums, economic groups, youth groups, the historical Acadian village, historical societies, educational societies, the municipality and residents as a whole. The meeting came one day before a similar session was to be held in Clare.
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Never once at the Argyle session was the commission presented with any alternative options for the Argyle Acadian riding. People want to maintain the status quo.
Said Real Boudreau, speaking on behalf the Argyle Chamber of Commerce, “It is our position that to provide suggestions other than the status quo makes us participants in the planning for the demise of our riding. We implore this commission to render the message that clause 2(D) in the terms of reference, as it relates to us, is clearly unacceptable. We ask you to reject that clause and keep Argyle as a riding and let it remain as is.”
In 1981, Argyle was recognized as an independent Acadian riding. This came about after much work by Acadian groups who felt it important that Acadians have a voice in government. Argyle Warden Aldric d’Entremont said the need for this voice has not gone away.
“This community, as is the case in the other two Acadian ridings, has been subject to assimilation. Our language and culture has been under threat for many years and it is the case with other minority groups across the province and in the nation,” he said. “Acadian organizations fight for the survival of our culture and language now more than ever.”
He said the commission must take the history and culture of the Acadians into account when it makes its decision.
It was noted during some of the presentations that a reason the Acadian population is spread out in small pockets across the province dates back to the 1755 explusion of the Acadians and where people re-settled when they came back after the explusion. Still, the surnames that you find in places like the riding of Argyle are significant, because people did return after the deportation and have made this their home.
And while yes, the Acadians have groups and organizations that work on their behalf, it is the area’s MLA that goes to the Legislature, as a member of government, to speak on the riding’s behalf. By being an Acadian riding, it helps to ensure that the person who does this has Acadian roots and understands the history and the needs of the Acadian population.
Noe Bourque, who is the president of the Comité jeuness de Par-en-Bas, said for young people, the formation of the Acadian riding of Argyle is a symbol that the government listened to the Acadian population and understood their situation. The last thing needed, he said, was to lose this symbol. He added that when people vote for the person who will represent them in the Legislature, they vote for people who they know, people in their village. If the riding is changed, he said there is a good chance the ability to do this would disappear.
At the session, the neighbouring municipalities of the Town of Yarmouth and the Municipality of Yarmouth also gave their verbal support for the Argyle riding.
By the end of May the commission expects to have an interim report prepared. Then a second round of consultation is planned. The goal is to have a final report to present to the government by Aug. 31.
Among those who presented to the commission was Chris d’Entremont, the MLA for Argyle. He was part of a sub-committee that was involved in the electoral boundaries process. Yet he said while all three political parties were represented on the sub-committee, when it came to the terms of reference it “became abundantly clear that these were the ideas” of the governing NDP party.
“Both Liberals and Conservatives expressed our concerns together, but the NDP majority committee threw out the concensus agreement that we had and voted to put in clause 2(D) that so many people talked about this evening,” he said.
D’Entrement asked the commission to maintain 52 ridings in the province and also, where possible, to respect municipal boundaries. He also said the terms of reference for the commission are a guideline, not a law.
“I don’t want to be the last MLA of Argyle,” said d’Entremont.