Lights. Camera. Reaction.
"...Nova Scotia Premier, Darrell Dexter, does not care about black people."
As hyperbolic as that statement is, dumbfounded à la Kanye West was my initial disposition after reading articles I recently came across chronicling a brewing controversy in Nova Scotia's current electoral reform process.
Having now gotten over my initial shock, I must say that I cannot credibly confirm either way whether Premier Dexter cares about blacks in Nova Scotia (a.k.a. "African Nova Scotians"). However, what's clear is that Premier Dexter's government has recently shown steadfast disregard for the importance of protecting the political representation of his province's historic African Nova Scotian population.
In fact, in light of what I've learned I now have a better understanding of why Nova Scotia has been dubbed, the "Mississippi of the North." Before I get into all of that though, let me start with what led me to learn about the Nova Scotian government's discriminatory electoral reform manoeuvrings in the first place.
While recently taking some time to read up on news from the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, I was led to numerous articles discussing covertly but clearly racist voter identification laws that at least 10 U.S. States have either passed or are rushing to pass before this November's presidential election. These laws are reported to impose increasingly rigid requirements that mandate voters to produce specific pieces of identification (i.e.: a valid driver's license) in order to be allowed to vote.
On its face, I agree that the introduction of these voter-ID requirements looks like harmless, if not, prudent and responsible law-making aimed at preventing voter fraud. However, my reading on this growing scandal suggested that these laws can be characterized as covertly but clearly racist because they have a disproportionately damaging effect on African-Americans and Hispanics -- voting blocs on which President Obama relied to win the presidency in 2008.
Anyway, as I read article after article describing what appears to be a generalizing U.S. conspiracy of racially motivated voter suppression, I eventually lost myself. It was only for a moment, but it happened...
I slipped from the mild-mannered and sometimes self-righteous humility that is so typically Canadian and I began shaking my head, thinking, "America; so far ahead but still so far behind. I mean, when's the last time anyone's heard of a government in Canada so obviously engaging in discriminatory manipulation of electoral policies?" Right?
A Google search and a bout with stunned silence later aaannd, boom!
2012: Nova Scotia, see Darrel Dexter. That shit cray!
Here's the story: Nova Scotia is undergoing reforms to adjust electoral boundaries in accordance with latest Canadian census. Mandated to undertake this process is the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC), an independent agency constituted to work on behalf of the citizens of Nova Scotia, not the government.
After months of community consultations, and much policy and legal research into the question of how best to protect the political representation of minorities in the province, the EBC decided to leave intact Nova Scotia's four "protected constituencies." Created in 1991, these constituencies were established to entrench political representation of francophone minority of Acadians, and African Nova Scotians in the province's House of Assembly (three of these constituencies secure Acadian representation and the other, the constituency of Preston, secures that of African Nova Scotians).
When the EBC released its interim report in May 2012 indicating its decision to maintain the protected constituencies, Premier Dexter and his Attorney General, Ross Landry, publicly opposed this decision, flatly rejected the report and demanded that the EBC do it over again -- this time with the protected constituencies obliterated and absorbed into surrounding electoral districts. (It's worth noting here that Dexter's provincial NDP holds none of these protected seats.)
So, what's Premier Dexter and Attorney General Landry's excuse for blatantly violating the political independence of the Electoral Boundaries Commission? Ironically, they argue that the Commission breached its Terms of Reference outlining the scope of the Commission's powers, namely the stipulation that the Commission ensure that the population of each constituency fall within 25 per cent of the provincial average of about 14,000. The four protected constituencies are all about half that size.
Now, I can't comfortably speak on the historic discrimination suffered by Acadians at the hands of successive Canadian and Nova Scotian governments. However, I can confidently and assuredly assert that regardless of the EBC's Terms of Reference, African Nova Scotians have earned the right to retain their protected constituency of Preston.
This is not a privilege but an African Nova Scotian right that has been paid for with way more than their fair share of blood, toil, tears and sweat. Indeed, there are at least 10 reasons for maintaining the political representation of African Nova Scotians' protected constituency:
1. Shelburne, Canada's first race riot.
2. The Black builders and developers of Citadel Hill and important parts of Halifax.
3. The War of 1812's Black Refugees-turned-soldiers-turned Nova Scotian settlers.
4. The No. 2 Construction Battalion.
5. The unjust and humiliating arrest of Viola Desmond.
6. The neglect and destruction of Africville.
7. The Auburn Drive High School incident.
8. The cross-burnings incident.
9. Current statistics evidencing a socio-economic "state of crisis" in the African Nova Scotian community.
10. The principles of Premier Dexter's own party, especially the fourth.
With all that said, I am strongly of the opinion that Premier Dexter should revisit his government's position on this issue. If for no other reasons, he should do so to convince the rest of Canada that Nova Scotia is nothing like the American Old South, that his belief in democratic principles of fairness and political independence are uncompromising, and most of all, to assure the public that he thinks of the black citizens in his province as more than, well, you know...
N*gg@$ in Preston.
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