Putting boundaries on an electoral boundaries commission


Premier Darrell Dexter is right that the province’s Electoral Boundaries Commission was wrong to ignore its mandate to eliminate designated minority ridings.

But his government was wrong to force that mandate on the commission in the first place.

Let’s rewind. There’s a legal requirement that an electoral boundaries commission be established every so often to determine the appropriate number, size, shape and composition of the province’s voting districts.

Last fall, the legislature created a Select Committee on Establishing an Electoral Boundaries Commission to figure out who should sit on it and what its terms of reference should be.

That NDP-dominated committee-to-choose-a-commission held 10 hearings over less than two whirlwind weeks in five communities from Yarmouth to Sydney. Most were sparsely attended. Some lasted less than half an hour because no one showed up.

There was some discussion about designated minority ridings but, from my brief traipse through the transcripts, most of those who spoke—and most of them, to be fair, had a vested interest—supported the status quo.

Despite that, the committee—did we mention it was NDP-dominated and the minority ridings are represented by other parties—specifically instructed the commissioners to eliminate the policy of drawing boundaries in such a way as to encourage electoral representation of francophones and African Nova Scotians.

Because the legislature wasn’t sitting at the time, the report didn’t come back to the House for debate. Instead, the report itself became fiat.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking: does it really make sense to gerrymander certain ridings to make it more likely voters will elect a member of a designated minority group who can represent both the riding and the broader interests of the group in the legislature? It certainly hasn’t always had the desired effect; black Preston, for example, continues to be represented by a white politician. Are there better ways to achieve the desired result—a more completely representative legislature?

Let’s have a real discussion about this important issue.

An electoral boundaries commission that engages Nova Scotians of all political stripes and persuasions in open discussion would have offered an ideal opportunity for that debate. If the NDP hadn’t already determined the outcome.

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