By Eric Bourque
As one local observer put it, the battle may have been won, but the war isn’t over.
He was responding to the release of the interim report of the commission reviewing Nova Scotia’s provincial electoral boundaries, which says the Acadian ridings of Argyle, Clare and Richmond and the African Nova Scotian riding of Preston should be retained.
The commission’s interim report was made public Friday morning, June 1. The commission must submit a final report by the end of August.
“The key issues confronting the commission today are essentially those that challenged the two previous commissions,” said commission chair Teresa MacNeil. “They are the status of ‘protected constituencies,’ achieving relative voter parity to the extent possible and population shifts requiring adjustment.”
The boundary issue began heating up at the end of 2011, when the select committee charged with establishing the electoral boundaries commission – a committee with a majority of members from the NDP government – announced the terms of reference for the commission, which included a call for all of the province’s ridings to have populations within 25 per cent of the provincial average.
The four minority ridings – all of which have populations below the Nova Scotia average and outside the 25 per cent variance – previously had been exempt from this requirement.
In the months that followed, critics of the government’s position on the electoral boundary issue argued that the minority ridings should be maintained, saying various factors – linguistic and cultural considerations, community of interest and the like – needed to be taken into account, that the boundary question was about more than just numbers.
Those wanting the minority ridings to stay as they are presented their case at public meetings held by the commission, including sessions in Tusket and Church Point in April.
The presenters included the Conseil acadien de Par-en-Bas, a spokesman for which said the organization was glad to learn of the commission’s recommendations regarding the minority ridings.
“We’re certainly pleased that the interim report is in our favour,” said Clyde deViller, CAPEB’s executive director. “There is a rationale why they chose to protect our boundaries and they’re bang on in their reasoning.”
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It was good to see the commission “interpret the terms of reference in a general kind of way instead of taking it by the letter,” he said.
The interim report included a dissenting opinion from commission member Jill Grant regarding the commission’s interpretation of the terms of reference.
In a statement issued the day of the release of the commission’s interim report, Nova Scotia Attorney General Ross Landry said the commission had “raised some complex questions” and that he would be asking the commission’s chair to meet with him to discuss the report.
Saying he would not comment further until having reviewed the report in detail, Landry said, “The House of Assembly set the terms of reference for the commission with a final report to be submitted by Aug. 31, 2012. The final report must meet the terms of reference as set out by the House of Assembly.”
Referring to the attorney general’s statement, deViller said this is an indication that the issue hasn’t been settled yet, an assessment shared by Argyle MLA Chris d’Entremont.
On a positive note, aside from being pleased with the commission’s interim report, d’Entremont said the push to retain the minority ridings has not come from just within the affected ridings themselves.
“Apparently, when the commission went out and met with people on the south shore, in the valley, in Cape Breton, they all spoke very well of maintaining the Acadian seats and the African Nova Scotian seat, because they understood the importance (of this issue),” d’Entremont said, “so it wasn’t just us. Thankfully, there were others (who) echoed our feelings.”
Among other things, in their interim report the majority of commissioners determined that the number of Nova Scotia MLAs should remain at 52 but that two new constituencies be created in the Halifax area to accommodate population growth there.