This was a question some of us were mulling over on election night.
The ambitious and dedicated folks at community radio station CIOE in Lower Sackville asked me to moderate their coverage on election night with a panel comprised of broadcasting legend Al Hollingsworth, former NDP MLA Michele Raymond and former Nova Scotia finance minister and Senator Bernie Boudreau.
Bernie and I share a common failure. We ran in the 2000 federal election in Dartmouth. We both lost. Actually, former Buchanan era cabinet minister and now Senator, Tom McInnes was in the race too, so I was in pretty good company when we all failed to unseat incumbent NDP MP Wendy Lill. (I should point out, my ill-informed run failed much more miserably than the PC and Liberal candidates, mind you Bernie gave up his Senate seat to run, but I digress)
In advance of the provincial election night program in May, I asked Bernie if he would mind having a quick peek at the Reference of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal regarding the Final Report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC). We all felt it was an important issue, but it wasn’t getting much media attention.
The Honourable Justices Fichaud, Saunders, Oland, Bryson and Bourgeois were asked to provide opinion on the following; Does Section 1 of Chapter 61 of the Acts of Nova Scotia 2012, by which provisions the recommendations tendered by the EBC by its Final Report to the House of Assembly were enacted, violate Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by abolishing the electoral districts of Clare, Argyle, and Richmond?
Now I’m not a lawyer, but Bernie is and his opinion on this, which he freely shared on the radio, is the province could be in some pretty thick soup. If the EBC violated the Charter, does this mean the electoral boundaries are unconstitutional as the Acadian Federation asserts? How many? If the boundaries were illegal during an election, does this mean the result of the election is illegal? What would that mean?
Earlier in the spring, the Acadian Federation’s executive director Marie-Claude Rioux said, “I don’t think it is in the government’s best interest to call an election before this issue is resolved. It opens a whole Pandora’s box, and I don’t think the government wants to go there.” Well, they did.
So, the implication of this seems, at least on the surface, pretty serious and requiring some delicate unwinding.
The Liberals essentially said, our lawyers see it differently and the Premier can call an election whenever he wants. However, the loss of former Minister of Acadian Affairs Michel Samson’s seat in Richmond adds another layer of intrigue, as Samson was widely seen as one of Stephen McNeil’s senior lieutenants, and his loss in the election can be attributed, at least in part, to the redrawing of the boundaries.
Progressive Conservative Alana Paon beat Samson in Cape Breton-Richmond by just 20 votes. In 2013, Samson got 50 per cent of the vote. Prior to the election, Tory Leader Jamie Baillie said the legitimacy of an election would be in question if the government doesn’t pay attention to the Acadian Federation. They picked up the Richmond seat, so what are they saying now?
The issue is apparently going to be resolved one way or another later this year, but it could make for some very interesting political posturing.