NS introduces law to improve election chances for Acadian black candidates

first_imgHALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government has proposed changes to how the province’s voting map is drawn to make it easier for Acadian and black candidates to get elected in certain ridings.Government house leader Geoff MacLellan introduced amendments to the House of Assembly Act on Tuesday, saying the revised law strikes a balance between voter parity and minority representation.Under the new rules, the number of voters in each district would have to fall within a certain population range of plus or minus 25 per cent of the average.However, exceptions would be permitted based on geography as well as historical, cultural or linguistic factors, expected to allow black and Acadian minorities have a bigger say in elections.The permitted spread in the number of voters in a riding — with greater discrepancies allowed for “exceptional circumstances” — could leave some constituencies with significantly larger or smaller populations.Dalhousie University political science professor Lori Turnbull said the 25 per cent spread is unusual internationally, but falls in line with other provinces.“Normally it’s five per cent up or down for other countries. Canada allowing the 25 per cent deviation in either direction creates significant discrepancies between boundaries and constituencies,” she said.Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the federal government all use the 25 per cent standard deviation.Turnbull said it stems from both constitutional obligations and a commitment to represent diverse communities.“It speaks to that quintessential Canadian compromise between the equality of the vote and the representation of communities,” she said.The ammendents come after a Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruling released in January 2017 found a 2012 boundary redrawing that eliminated three Acadian ridings violated the voter rights section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.The advisory opinion sought by the province on constitutional grounds came after the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia took court action after the 2012 boundary change eliminated the protected districts of Clare, Argyle and Richmond.MacLellan told reporters that the changes, which would form the terms of reference for setting electoral boundaries, would give independent commissions the “elasticity” to draw the best voting map to represent Nova Scotians.“It really is for the commission to determine and exercise it’s discretion under the legislation to identify what would be an appropriate electoral district,” he said.The changes also pave the way for the creation of so-called “non-contiguous” constituencies, a suggestion MacLellan admitted has raised concerns.Allowing for new ridings that are not connected geographically is not “set in stone,” he said, noting that if it’s a contentious issue it could be altered by the Standing Committee on Law Amendments.Meanwhile, although the new framework doesn’t explicitly set a floor or ceiling for the number of electoral districts, it does allow for a committee to determine “the minimum and maximum number of electoral districts.”Marie-Claude Rioux, executive director of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, said she feared a cap on legislative seats while allowing non-contiguous ridings could see Acadian voters across the province lumped into one riding.“History has shown that Acadians have reasons to be concerned and to always be afraid of what politicians are doing,” she said.Rioux said the goal is to ensure that Acadian voices are represented in the legislature — not to only elect Acadians.“We’re not going to take blood tests here. We want to have an MLA that knows the needs of the Acadian community and can represent them.”Progressive Conservative MLA Chris d’Entremont said before the Acadian ridings were abolished in 2012, the local MLAs managed to advance the Acadian school district, translation services and take steps towards bilingualism.A new boundaries commission expected to be struck this spring could reinstate the predominantly French-speaking ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond, and could allow the Halifax-area riding of Preston, with its large black population, to stand on its own rather than merged with a neighbouring district.Craig Smith said the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia is “encouraged” by the proposed changes.“These changes have the capacity to ensure a more diverse and inclusive provincial legislature,” the group’s president said in a statement. “It is our hope that they will lead to a broader representation for the African-Nova Scotia and Acadian communities.”last_img