11/06/2012 10:38 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia committee to hold hearings on electoral boundary changes next week

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's law amendments committee will travel to Shelburne next week to hear the town's concerns over proposed changes to provincial electoral boundaries.

The committee decided Tuesday that it would hold public hearings next Thursday and Friday.

The government decided last week to send the committee to Shelburne after Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau said he wouldn't support the changes because the Electoral Boundaries Commission did not consult with his constituents.

The NDP government-dominated committee also turned down Liberal requests to hold similar meetings in Digby and Havre Boucher — areas that also say they weren't consulted about the riding changes.

A bill that proposes to redraw the province's electoral map passed second reading on Monday. The legislation would also merge four ridings intended to represent Nova Scotia's black and Acadian populations with other ridings.

During the law amendments committee meeting Tuesday, NDP member Howard Epstein said the legislature would likely have to decide on three scenarios to resolve the ongoing electoral boundaries dispute.

Epstein said the legislature could accept the report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission as is, scrap the commission's report altogether and start over, or "tinker" with the report's recommendations.

He said he would like to see all-party support on how to proceed, though the government has not made that a precondition.

"That's not something our party has decided at all," Epstein said. "We are wrestling with all of these possibilities now because we take the matter very seriously."

Liberal committee member Michel Samson said none of the options appear attractive, blaming government interference for the public outcry.

"The Opposition's criticism has not been of the Electoral Boundaries Commission," Samson said.

"It has been of the interference by this government through the select committee and the terms of reference to the minister of justice refusing the first interim report that was presented."

Progressive Conservative Chris d'Entremont said it may be time to examine the process of redrawing electoral boundaries every 10 years.

"We need a broader discussion of the House of Assembly Act and how independent commissions are struck by this house and what kind of terms of reference they are going to use in the future."