TUSKET, YARMOUTH COUNTY, NS – It was welcome news to those in the room that a proposal being looked at by a 2018 Electoral Boundaries Commission is to reinstate Acadian and African Nova Scotian ridings.
Still, to avoid a repeat of 2012 when these ridings were done away with, those who attended commission sessions in Tusket, Yarmouth County, and Clare, Digby County, on Sept. 8 spoke passionately about why the Acadian ridings are important.
“I’m feeling much more optimistic,” said Norbert LeBlanc, interim president of FANE (Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse). “To come in and them start a presentation saying we would like to discuss the proposal of putting back those ridings, that’s fantastic. I don’t feel that the math equation is the bottom line this time.”
But it took many years, a court challenge and a 2017 Commission on Effective Electoral Representation to get to this point.
The independent commission travelling the province is seeking input on restoring the Acadian ridings of Argyle, Clare and Richmond and the African Nova Scotian riding of Preston. This would result in 55 electoral districts in the province, instead of the current 51.
The commission is also seeking input on whether Chéticamp should be made into an Acadian riding or perhaps be combined with a restored Richmond riding. And it is seeking input on the creation of two new electoral districts in HRM: Bedford and Cole Harbour, based on a reshuffling of existing districts.
The creation of member-at-large MLAs to represent the Acadian and Africa Nova Scotian populations is also something the commission is seeking input on.
Although the commission is looking to submit a proposal that would increase the number of electoral districts in the province, it must also submit a proposal that would keep the current number of seats. The government will make the final decision on the boundaries.
A proposal the Electoral Boundaries Commission is looking at is reinstating the Acadian ridings that were done away with in 2012. Under that proposed scenario, in the Tri-Counties the districts and the number of electorates would look like this:
• Shelburne riding: 11,360
• Argyle riding: 6,272
• Yarmouth riding: 13,658
• Clare riding: 6,667
• Digby-Annapolis riding: 12,561
The other ridings the commission is proposing to reinstate include:
• Preston: 9,962
• Richmond: 7,434
Presenter Brent Surette had many people in the Tusket meeting room nodding in agreement when he told the commission that while all MLAs in the province have similar roles when it comes to serving the needs of their constituents, MLAs in Acadian ridings have the added responsibility of working with and for their constituents to protect the Acadian culture and language.
Due to geography, many speakers, including the FANE, don’t want to see a combination of the Clare and Argyle ridings into one Acadian riding, nor do they want a member at large representing the Acadian population, saying that’s not practical.
Presenter Clyde DeViller said he worried a combination of Cheticamp and Richmond into one Acadian riding would create a precedent to do the same in Argyle and Clare.
Chris d’Entremont, who is the MLA of the Argyle-Barrington riding, and who was the MLA of the previous Acadian Argyle riding, is happy to see the commission seeking input on restoring the minority ridings.
“I’ve lived through two select committees at this point. I’ve yelled at cabinet ministers, I’ve yelled at premiers over this issue, that they weren’t listening. This has taken a lot of work to get to the correct set of recommendations . . . so you have a terms of reference that is as open as it possibly can be,” he told the commission members.
Both the municipalities of Argyle and Clare said their positions have not changed. Argyle Deputy Warden Danny Muise and CAO Alain Muise said they were satisfied that concerns are being heard in this go-around.
“I’m quite pleased to see that the commission is actually recommending us to go back to the original boundaries,” said Clare Warden Ronnie LeBlanc. “That’s a bit of a surprise.”
FANE’s executive director Marie-Claude Rioux spent a lot of time talking about the historical and political history of the province’s Acadians, including the time before, during and since the deportation.
“We have to know the various actions that were taken against Acadians,” she said. “They can say we’re a small number now but the reason we’re a small number is exactly because of those actions.”
Referring to the point made by Brent Surette about protection of the culture and language, Rioux said, “it is the heart in everything that we do in Acadian areas. Not only we are working to get health services, or education services or to get licence services, or other services, there is a maternal burden that we carry every day – it’s the survival of the language and the culture. The rest of the province doesn’t have to worry about that.”