12/04/2012 02:01 EST | Updated 02/03/2013 05:12 EST

Acadian group threatens legal challenge of ridings but premier dismisses it

HALIFAX - The group that represents Nova Scotia's Acadian population says it will launch a court challenge to quash a newly redrawn electoral map that it says will silence the voices of French-speaking people in the provincial legislature.

The Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia said Tuesday the new map, which has yet to be proclaimed law, effectively abolishes the ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond — all of which have substantial French-speaking populations.

"We'll have less representation," said Justin Mury, president of the federation.

About four per cent of the province's population speaks French, the federation says.

Mury said the government interfered with the work of the province's independent Electoral Boundaries Commission by insisting it adhere to a rule that says all ridings in the province should have a population that does not vary more than 25 per cent from the overall average of about 14,000.

"The (federation) feels betrayed by the NDP government, which time and again interfered with the democratic and independent process of the electoral boundary review," Mury said.

"These interventions by the government effectively silenced the voice of the Acadian people."

Since the early 1980s, each of the ridings in question has maintained a smaller-than-average population to ensure Acadians had a strong influence in elections.

In the riding of Argyle, for example, there are only 6,200 voters. About 60 per cent of them are Acadian. Under redistribution, the Acadian proportion drops to about 22 per cent, said Chris d'Entremont, the Progressive Conservative member for the riding.

In September, the Electoral Boundaries Commission recommended four minority ridings — including a Halifax-area riding that has a large black population — should be merged with neighbouring ridings to ensure relatively equal representation.

Premier Darrell Dexter says the commission's terms of reference provided for a balance between minority rights and equal representation, and he expects the new map will withstand any legal challenge.

"I don't know how it could be illegitimate," he said outside the legislature.

"We brought forward a fair process, one that seeks to balance the question of minority rights with the right of all people to feel that their votes count equally and that balance is something that the commission had to deal with. It did. ... The richness of the Acadian fact in our heritage will always be represented."

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the Dexter government has put too much emphasis on voter equity. He said culture and language should be factors to consider when redrawing the electoral map.

"It was the NDP government that trampled on those rights and I'm not surprised that this will be challenged in court."