07/20/2012 10:32 EDT | Updated 09/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia should trim legislature, merge minority ridings, revised report says

HALIFAX - A commission examining electoral boundaries in Nova Scotia says there should be one less member in the provincial legislature and four designated minority ridings should merge with other constituencies.

The province's Electoral Boundaries Commission released a revised interim report Friday in which it recommends there being 51 members in the house of assembly.

It also calls for the elimination of three ridings in Cape Breton, northeast Nova Scotia and the southwestern region of the province, while recommending the addition of two ridings in the Halifax area.

The commission released its first interim report June 1, recommending continued protection for the province's four designated minority ridings.

But the provincial government rejected it, saying it did not comply with the legislature's mandatory terms of reference that requires constituencies to be within 25 per cent of the average number of voters. The minority group ridings do not meet that criteria.

At the time, the commission's chairwoman disagreed, saying the terms of reference weren't mandatory. That prompted opposition parties to accuse the government of political interference — allegations it denied.

But the commission later agreed to revise the interim report.

"It was a difficult process to achieve voter parity within the established limitation," commission chairwoman Teresa MacNeil said in a statement.

"However, we feel the current document shows that the terms of reference are fully addressed."

The commission is proposing that the Halifax-area riding of Preston, which has a large number of black constituents, be expanded to include areas from the ridings of Cole Harbour and Dartmouth East and be renamed Dartmouth-Preston.

The riding of Richmond, a Cape Breton district with a minority Acadian population, would grow to include parts of Cape Breton West and the town of Port Hawkesbury. It would be renamed Cape Breton-Southwest.

The Clare and Argyle ridings, communities with large francophone populations on the South Shore, would be merged with Yarmouth. One proposed riding would be called Yarmouth-Argyle, while the other would be Clare-Yarmouth.

The commission said with these interim recommendations, the number of voters in each riding now falls within 25 per cent of the average number of voters.

Jean Melanson, the warden for the predominantly Acadian Municipality of Clare, says the decision is a major setback for the province's francophone communities.

"It's certainly disappointing," he said.

"This is disasterous really. They're taking away the voice of the Acadian communities of Nova Scotia."

The commission, which was appointed in December 2010, is expected to deliver its final report to the government by Aug. 31.