POLITICS

Nova Scotia premier reiterates no-compromise position on electoral boundaries

06/07/2012 12:21 EDT | Updated 08/07/2012 05:12 EDT
HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's premier says there will be no compromise on the mandate of an independent commission examining the province's electoral boundaries.

Darrell Dexter reiterated his stance Thursday that the commission must stick to terms of reference that include a provision requiring all electoral districts to have a voting population within 25 per cent of the overall average, which is 14,246.

That requirement is not being met by four so-called protected ridings that each have an unusually small number of voters to ensure linguistic and racial minorities maintain a degree of political clout on voting day. The commission ran afoul of the premier when it released an interim report recommending the special districts be preserved.

The protected ridings include Clare, Argyle and Richmond, which provide for Acadian representation. Preston has a large number of black constituents.

"Nobody can tell me that a community is defined by an electoral boundary," said Dexter. "That's just simply, from a cultural perspective, not the case."

He said the commission is expected to deliver a final report Aug. 31 that reflects the legislature's terms of reference.

Dexter said that doesn't rule out some allowances for minority ridings, as long as they are within the required guidelines.

"It is not a question of compromise. It is a question of being able to conform to the terms of reference that are there and the mandate they (the commission) have been given, that is fundamentally their responsibility."

On Wednesday, chairwoman Teresa MacNeil said the commission accepts that the 25 per cent rule must be applied to all districts. However, she said the commission intends to talk to constituents to determine if some level of accommodation can be reached during upcoming public hearings.

She said those hearings will include discussion on the role the ridings play in representing black and Acadian voters.

Meanwhile, Dexter said if the commission doesn't meet its required mandate, then the final report won't be dealt with by the legislature.

The House of Assembly Act says that the government "shall introduce legislation" to implement the commission's final report within 10 days if the legislature is in session.

The house likely won't be sitting when the final report is released and Dexter wouldn't say what steps the government might take if it doesn't get what it wants.

"I'm not going to speculate on it because I have every confidence that they will in fact deliver an electoral boundaries report that will reflect the will of the legislature," he said.