The Conservative’s recent press release declared the NDP move to create new electoral boundaries, where a vote in one part of the province is roughly equivalent to another, to be a “despicable deed” that “shows NDP don’t respect minorities”. It was possibly their most bizarre press release of 2011.
How many visible minorities are in the Conservative Caucus? Zero. Still think they might be a great defender of minorities? Count how many women are in the Conservative Caucus. Zero. When former Tory Karen Casey fled to welcoming Liberal arms, a Liberal Caucus staffer joked the PCs could now turn their women’s washroom into a reading room.
If the opposition parties want to work on increasing minority representation in the legislature they will have to start nominating minorities.
This impolite debate is part of a discussion about how to redraw the electoral boundaries in Nova Scotia now that the new census data is scheduled to arrive from the federal government. Currently, using Elections Nova Scotia data, we can see that many ridings are well over a 25% variance and many far, far under.
4 of the 5 smallest constituencies are the so-called “minority seats” meant to help elect African Nova Scotians and Acadians to the Nova Scotia legislature. The reasoning at the time was that while the black population in Preston might still be just one-third of that constituency’s population, it would still make it more likely a party would nominate a minority, and more likely that the historically under-represented minority candidate would win. It worked for a while. But as suburban Dartmouth grew into the constituency, the black minority shrank in percentage. Preston now elects Keith Colwell.
The new boundaries drawn by the Electoral Boundary Commission won’t necessarily eliminate minority seats – just ensure they are within the allowed variance.
Why have any variance at all, some may ask? Shouldn’t electoral parity be the rule? Well, parity is the most important factor, but allowing for a 25% variance fits within the Canadian court system which has ruled that you need to allow for effective as well as equal representation.
In 1991, Justice McLachlin, writing for the Supreme Court of Canada, explained the concept of variance.
The purpose of the right to vote enshrined in s.3 of the Charter is not equality of voting power per se, but the right to ‘effective representation’… And the primary condition of effective representation is relative parity of voting power, modified where necessary by factors like geography, community history, community interests and minority representation.
So Nova Scotia’s Electoral Boundary Commission will ensure people’s votes are treated equally but also fairly. The physical size of a riding, whether it is a community of interest, and projections of population growth can be considered in creating variances of up to but not exceeding 25% for the constituencies.
It is worth noting that all three political parties agreed on the members of the independent Electoral Boundary Commission. The commission includes Saint Mary’s University president Colin Dodds, who was chairman of the last boundaries commission in 2002. If the opposition is going to accuse the government of ‘gerrymandering’ to try to make the evening news, they will actually be accusing the independent commission.
Footnote: Many constituencies have a higher number of names on the 2009 electoral list than the provincial average of 13,905, meaning, only in terms of parity, that their vote is worth less than others in less populated constituencies.
• Those with a variance of greater than 10% of the average but less than 20% are:
Chester-St. Margarets’, Cole Harbour, Halifax Needham, Timberlea-Prospect, Truro-Bible Hill, Waverley-Fall River
• Those with a variance of greater than 20% of the average are:
Bedford, Cape Breton South, Dartmouth South-Portland Valley, Clayton Park, Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville, Hants East, Kings South.
Our own Pictou West is right at about a 20% variance, less than the average. Depending on new census data, we may have to grow our border a bit.