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Jul 19

Nova Scotia Acadian Federation threatens court action in electoral boundaries dispute

The Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia is warning the province’s Liberal government it will face legal action if an election is called before the electoral map is redrawn to restore three so-called protected ridings eliminated in 2012.

READ MORE: NS court ruling not barrier to potential election call: professor

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The federation said Monday it will seek a court order if the government fails to act.

A Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ruling released in January found a 2012 boundary redrawing violated the voter rights section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The boundary changes eliminated the protected Acadian ridings of Clare, Argyle and Richmond.

“I don’t think it is in the government’s best interest to call an election before this issue is resolved,” said executive director Marie-Claude Rioux. “It opens a whole Pandora’s box, and I don’t think the government wants to go there.”

The government has been widely expected to call an election this year, perhaps as early as this spring.

Rioux said her organization believes an interim solution can be found relatively quickly.

READ MORE: NS court ruling not barrier to potential election call: professor

She said that could be done by having an electoral boundaries commission reconsider an interim report that was rejected in 2012.

“We know that a (similar) commission was called back in New Brunswick for a federal election … and the commission lasted one day,” said Rioux.

She said the federation wants a full electoral boundaries commission process to decide the boundaries within the next two years.

The federation said it wants immediate discussions with the province aimed at obtaining court orders to reinforce the appeal court ruling.

READ MORE: NS NDP member ponders legal move if election called without riding boundary review

Those orders would: confirm the unconstitutionality of the 2012 boundaries abolishing the Acadian ridings, and order the government to establish a new electoral boundaries commission with a mandate of ensuring effective representation for the Acadian community, among other things.

Michel Samson, the Minister responsible for Acadian Affairs, said Monday he found it baffling that the federation wants to go back to court when the move isn’t necessary.

“Especially since we’ve basically agreed for the most part on a process that would be able to achieve all that they are asking to achieve,” said Samson, adding the government would publicly state its position once there is a chance for further talks.

Samson said the government does not believe an election would be unconstitutional.

“There are a lot of lawyers out there with a lot of different opinions. Let’s just say we don’t share the same opinion that’s been given to the Acadian federation.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia must review riding boundaries before election or risk legal action: Tories

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil said the government believes it would be fair to have an election under the current boundaries.

McNeil also said that any redrawing of the electoral map would have to start with fresh terms of reference once a boundaries commission is selected.

Rioux said the federation “begs to differ” with the premier’s assertion that an election under the current boundaries would be constitutional in light of the appeal court ruling.

She also warned that proceeding with an election could trigger a court ruling that calls into question government legislation passed since the boundaries were redrawn.

“That’s why we are asking for a suspension of the decision for two years because in the meantime you have chaos. You have to solve the situation and get something in the interim that is going to be constitutional.”

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives and NDP legislature member Sterling Belliveau have also said they are looking at legal options if there is no formal boundary review.

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie said it’s now clear the legitimacy of an election would be in question if the government doesn’t pay attention to what the Acadian Federation is saying.

READ MORE: Acadian group to take Nova Scotia to court over electoral boundary changes

Baillie said that’s an issue for all voters, including other minorities such as African Nova Scotians and the Mi’kmaq.

“This is about everybody’s vote and whether we are going to have a valid election,” he said.