GUYSBOROUGH – The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia concluded its work of redrawing the province’s federal electoral map last month. The final report was tabled in the House of Commons on April 26, and met with dismay from some Members of Parliament, notably MP for Central Nova Sean Fraser and MP for Sydney-Victoria Jaime Battiste, whose ridings would drastically change under the new boundaries, as would the boundary for Cape Breton-Canso, represented by MP Mike Kelloway.
The Journal spoke with Kelloway and Fraser last week about the commission’s final report and what it means for their ridings and their political futures.
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission’s job, according to a news release issued by the commission on April 26, is to “set boundaries so that each electoral district contains roughly the same number of people while also taking into account communities of interest or identity, historical patterns and geographic size in sparsely populated regions.”
MP Fraser says they failed in that undertaking.
“The decision by the commission is extremely disappointing… Attaching Antigonish to almost the entirety of Cape Breton is not a reasonable decision. The ability of a Member of Parliament to be visible to the communities that they represent, to have constituency presences that allow their constituents to seek the services that an MP office can offer is essential,” Fraser told The Journal.
“I had personally raised their need to consult with First Nations communities and African Nova Scotian communities and that their report reflects a deliberate decision the commission took not to speak to those communities, is extremely disappointing in the 21st century; to have made a decision not to include Indigenous people or racialized minorities.”
Fraser added that Battiste intends to make a legal challenge to the commission’s decision.
In a disposition of objections, included in the final district redistribution report, the commissioners wrote, “Mr. Battiste asserts the Commission failed to consult with the First Nation communities of Eskasoni and Wagmatcook in contravention of its constitutional obligation to do so, and contrary to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons.”
The commissioners’ response to that assertion is: “The Commission is satisfied a proper application of the legal principles articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada demonstrate that a duty to consult Indigenous communities does not arise in the present circumstances.”
This section of the report also questions the legitimacy of, “Mr. Battiste’s threat to undertake legal action…in the event the Commission does not alter the proposed boundaries to his liking,” and explains, in approximately 10 pages of court decision references, why the commission believes the proposed case has no merit.
In addition to what Fraser sees as a glaring failure of the commission, he also said that, personally, he’d like the boundaries to remain unchanged due to his close ties to Pictou and Antigonish counties.
The new proposed boundaries would not take effect should there be a federal election before April of next year, said Fraser, adding, “For now, I am going to carry on and represent the communities that are within my constituency to the best of my ability.”
Should the change in the boundaries stand, Fraser told The Journal it would be his intention to run in the riding of Central Nova.
Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway told The Journal he was surprised by the final report submitted by the commission, but added, “I was on the last provincial boundaries commission, so I know of the work that the commission has to do and it’s not easy. I was surprised when the final recommendation came out and then when the final final recommendations came out after interventions from Sean Fraser, Jaime Battiste and Metlege Diab; and the final boundaries were unchanged. I look at it as the commission has a role to perform; they did, I respect that. And I will continue to serve Cape Breton-Canso with the passion and the vim and vigour that I’ve always had, and we’ll let the dust settle to see where people run.”
Asked how the boundary redistribution would affect his political future, Kelloway said, “Federally…you don’t have to live in the riding that you run in. I certainly believe it helps, to say the least. Look, I’ve got a lot think about. Number one, my affinity for Cape Breton, northeast Nova Scotia. A good chunk of my adult life I have worked in that riding; [Nova Scotia Community College] Strait Area Campus for 11 years…and also the fact that I’m from Glace Bay and have lived in Sydney my entire adult life. That’s something I’ll have to weigh as well.”
Speaking to concerns raised by neighbouring MPs Fraser and Battiste, Kelloway said, “I certainly had conversations with Sean and Jaime on their points of view on this…there are some, I think, legitimate comments around communities of interest not being connected. I think there are some legitimate discussion pieces around the importance of how large a geographic riding is. But, I go back to the fact that, from my vantage point…my thought process was to let the commission do its work…at the end of the day, [I] respect the commissions’ wishes and [will] decide where I go from there.”
The Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Nova Scotia report is available online by searching ‘New Federal Electoral Map for Nova Scotia.’