Electoral commission’s snub of Queens ‘not meant to be a slight’

By Scott Costen

The chair of the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission says the nine-member panel didn’t deliberately snub Queens County during its province-wide consultations.

“It’s not meant to be a slight,” Colin Dodds told the Observer. “If people take it as a slight, I apologize for that, but it’s not meant to be.”

The commission, which has been criss-crossing the province since September 2018, is scheduled to hold its 24th and final public consultation later this month in Milford. A meeting has already been held in Shelburne and a Bridgewater hearing is scheduled Jan. 21. Queens County, meanwhile, was left off the commission’s itinerary.

The panel has five members from Halifax Regional Municipality, two from Cape Breton and one each from Antigonish and Digby counties. Dodds said this broad geographic representation, coupled with members’ professional obligations, made it impossible to visit every community that may be affected by changes to the province’s electoral map.

“The mayor of Annapolis wanted us to go (there),” he said. “But the best we could do is Cornwallis, which is only a 25-minute drive from there. We can’t please everybody, but we think we’ve done the best we can.”

Generally speaking, the commission’s job is to recommend the best possible configuration of Nova Scotia’s electoral districts. More specifically, it is tasked with addressing electoral boundary changes made in 2012 that reduced representation for Acadian and African Nova Scotian communities.

The current district of Queens-Shelburne was created in 2012. It includes the entirety of Region of Queens Municipality (RQM), a large segment of Shelburne County and a tiny piece of Annapolis County.

Prior to the creation of Queens-Shelburne, RQM residents voted in the provincial district of Queens. That riding comprised all of Queens County and the southwest corner of Lunenburg County.

This map shows the Lunenburg County portion of the Queens electoral district prior to the creation of Queens-Shelburne in 2012. (Elections Nova Scotia)

The commission’s November 2018 interim report contained four possible electoral maps. One of them largely maintains the status quo, although Dodds confirmed “we are not leaning towards doing that.”

The other three scenarios bring back the formerly protected districts of Argyle, Clare, Preston and Richmond. These districts were dismantled in 2012 against the recommendations of the electoral boundaries commission of the day. As noted in the current commission’s interim report, the “constitutional right of Acadians and African Nova Scotians to effective representation” may have been “unjustifiably limited or denied” because of the 2012 changes.

Also restored in the other three scenarios are the separate Queens and Shelburne districts, although the proposed Queens riding takes in more of Lunenburg County than its predecessor. Indeed, while the southwest corner of the county is included yet again, so too are communities further to the north such as Lapland, Laconia, Chelsea and Upper Chelsea.

The inclusion of more of Lunenberg County is likely owning to RQM’s steep population decline.

A larger portion of Lunenburg County is included in the proposed new Queens electoral district. (Interim report of the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission)

“With respect to Queens, we seem to be restoring it pretty close to what it was before,” Dodds said. “It’s not exactly the same. There are some changes in the margins with Lunenburg West. But it’s pretty well back to what it was.”

Reflecting the fact it incorporates more of Lunenburg County, the new Queens riding proposed by the commission is named Queens-Lunenburg West at least once in the interim report. Dodds said he’s not sure what name the commission will ultimately recommend, but noted it could be changed once the panel’s final recommendations are sent to the provincial legislature.

The commission’s final report — which is expected to recommend 55 or 56 electoral districts compared to the current 51 — is due April 1, 2019.