The organization representing the province’s Acadians has filed a notice of motion with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court as part of their decades-long attempt to secure an electoral riding in the Chéticamp area of Cape Breton.
In a media release issued Wednesday, the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE) announced the court filing along with five co-applicants who are residents of the Chéticamp area.
“Chéticamp is a very distinct and interesting place and actually very much part of Nova Scotia’s heritage and identity, and we want to do everything we can to help that community thrive,” FANE president Kenneth Deveau said in an interview on Thursday.
“And we think part of that is effective electoral representation, which we don’t feel they’re getting right now as the way the map has been redrawn.”
In 2012, the FANE took legal action against the province after the attorney general at the time rejected the 2012 Electoral Boundaries Commission interim report that recommended maintaining the protected Acadian electoral districts of Argyle and Clare in mainland Nova Scotia, and Richmond in Cape Breton. It had also recommended maintaining the African Nova Scotian constituency of Preston.
In 2017, the province established the independent Commission on Effective Electoral Representation of Acadian and African Nova Scotians (the Keefe Commission). The Keefe report, issued in 2018, noted “the tendency of our electoral system to submerge minority voters,” describing the formerly protected districts as “exceptional” because they had such small populations when compared with other electoral districts.
“Exceptional ridings promote representation by improving the chances of African Nova Scotians seeing someone who looks like them in the legislature, and of Acadians having an MLA they can talk to in their mother tongue,” the Keefe report noted.
In April of 2019, the Nova Scotia Electoral Boundaries Commission released its final report, ‘Balancing effective representation with voter parity,’ recommending the reinstatement of the four protected electoral districts of Argyle, Clare, Preston and Richmond. The final report noted the following:
While Acadians and African Nova Scotians reside throughout the province, this does not diminish the significance of historical anchor communities with notable concentrated populations, particularly those within the exceptional districts. These enclaves are not only cultural centres but distinctive “homeland” locales promoting living cultures based on centuries of generational transmission.
The report was accepted by the province and the new electoral boundaries were passed into legislation in the fall of 2019.
The commission, however, rejected the FANE’s request to create a protected electoral district for Chéticamp. Deveau called that decision “unjust.”
“We feel that the requests and the asks of the people of that region weren’t treated equitably or justly in the process and we obtained legal advice that confirms our position,” Deveau said.
“We will put those arguments before the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to try to get the process corrected for the people in that area and eventually to establish a riding that better represents the people of northern Inverness in the Francophone, the Acadian community in that part of the province.”
Deveau stressed that the FANE is not currently challenging the government of the day, but instead the process by which the Electoral Boundaries Commission did its work.
“The establishment of electoral boundaries is the balance, of course, between two important values, one being voter parity and the other one being the effective representation of communities and taking into consideration communities of interest,” Deveau said.
“We feel that the process by which the boundaries of the Inverness riding were established did not take into account the special considerations of the people of that region.”
Those considerations, he said, include language and culture.
The FANE has been advocating for an electoral district for Chéticamp for at least 30 years. The organization received financial support from the Court Challenges Program to pursue legal arguments related to this issue, and has engaged experts in the fields of history, geography, and “the institutional and moral foundations of Canadian democracy.”
“This is a constitutional question. It’s very complex, and we will respect the process and we will make our arguments before the courts,” Deveau said.
“It wouldn’t be fair to anyone for us to start making our arguments in any other context other than to say that we feel we have very strong arguments and we think that they should be heard and considered.”
Deveau also stressed the timing has nothing to do with an expected provincial election. He said it took two years to pull everything together.
“It’s a coincidence that there is an impending election and it’s independent of what we’re doing,” he said.