-by Anne Farries
Two where there has long been one?
The province is seeking public opinion on whether Inverness should have two MLAs: one Francophone and one Anglophone.
A committee weighing that option says that enhancing the Acadian voice in government may justify Inverness having more representation at the legislature than other parts of the province, which would continue to operate in the one constituency, one representative model.
“The question is: Can this deviation ‘be justified on the grounds that [it] contribute[s] to better government of the populace as a whole’,” states an interim report issued last week by Colin Dodds, chair of the Electoral Boundaries Commission, which is also reviewing constituency maps across the province.
In the dual-representation option, Acadian voters, like all others in the province, would receive only one ballot. But they could choose how to apply the ballot, either to vote for the MLA who represents the entire district or to choose a second MLA from a slate of Acadian candidates.
“In the above scenario, the possibility of electing an Acadian MLA is not just increased; it is guaranteed,” states the report.
Dodds described Inverness as “an unwieldy electoral district,” noting that it stretches for 200 kms.
And Francophones living in Cheticamp, the Acadian core, “have, to a large extent, been unable to converse in French with their MLAs.”
That contrasts with what Dodds described as Canada’s worldwide recognition for its “accommodation of diversity and minority rights within its democratic institutions.”
“The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that minority rights are a cornerstone of the country’s constitutional order.”
Dual representation was last seen in Nova Scotia in 1978, when separate Catholic and Protestant representation was eliminated in Yarmouth and Inverness.
When Nunavut was formed in 1997, the model was proposed to ensure equal gender representation, but failed in a referendum. It is currently used in New Zealand to guarantee a voice in government for the Indigenous Maori.
In Inverness, current MLA Alan MacMaster says he is ethically bound to stay out of the discussion around the commission’s work, to avoid perception of “gerrymandering,” which is selectively creating electoral districts to favour a candidate.
But he did say that the dual-representation model for Inverness is “an interesting proposition. It’s the only area of the province where it’s being considered.”
The commission has been working hard and heard from a great number of people, MacMaster believes, but there are “a lot of people out there that they haven’t heard from and they will probably never hear from,” he said.
“You don’t usually hear from members of the public on electoral boundaries unless something has been done that they don’t like, and that’s something that the commission has to keep in mind before they make their final decision.”
Alfred Poirier is the Francophone municipal councillor for Cheticamp. Though his work does not officially include communicating for Acadians to the province, he said he often steps into that role because Francophones in Inverness have difficulty obtaining provincial service in French.
Like MacMaster, Poirier declined to comment on the commission’s interim report, saying that he prefers to wait to see what happens.
Dodds said the commission feels “compelled to grant the community the dignity of considering options that are also fair to the rest of the province’s voters. In this case, the argument for different treatment may be warranted.”
The commission’s next round of public meetings will take place in January and February of 2019.
“We will ensure that adequate notice of those meetings will be given through the media and through our website: nselectoralboundaries.ca,” Dodds stated.
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