CBRM’s Electoral Districts

In 2018, Nova Scotia appointed a committee which created a commission to review the province’s electoral boundaries — a process that must, by law, take place every 10 years. The electoral boundaries commission, chaired by Dr. J Colin Dodds submitted its final report to Attorney General Mark Furey in April 2019. (Fun fact: Mike Kelloway, a commission member, has since become a the MP for Cape Breton-Canso.)

In a letter accompanying the report, the commission told Furey that redrawing Nova Scotia’s electoral boundaries required them to strike a balance between “effective representation and voter parity.” Meaning that while each MLA should represent roughly the same number of voters, exceptions to this rule may be justified on the grounds of geography, “historical, cultural or linguistic settlement patterns” or political boundaries.

This need for “effective representation” was established by the Supreme Court in 1991, and it led the 1991-92 NS Electoral Boundaries Commission to create “exceptional” electoral districts — namely, Preston, Clare, Argyle and Richmond — to “boost the presence” of Acadian and African Nova Scotian candidates. The commission also tried to “boost the presence” of Mi’kmaw candidates in the Legislature by establishing a single Mi’kmaw seat, but this was never filled (you can hear Senator Dan Christmas explain why in this interview with the CBC’s Jeff Douglas.)

The 2002 boundaries commission maintained these four protected seats but the 2012 commission received some decidedly mixed messages from the province, which said the it could deviate from voter parity for reasons of geography or community history and interest while simultaneously saying no constituency could be more than 25% larger or smaller than the average district. (The size of the “average” district is determined by dividing the number of eligible voters by the number of seats).

The 2012 commission initially interpreted its instructions as “guidelines” and submitted an interim report that recommended preserving the four protected seats. But “the attorney general of the day,” the NDP’s Ross Landry, refused to accept the report and demanded the commission comply with the legislature’s terms of reference. And so the commission did, submitting a final report that recommended abolishing the Preston, Clare, Argyle and Richmond ridings. (The commissions use “district,” “constituency” and “riding” interchangeably so I will too.)


See you in court

The story doesn’t end here, of course, because the the Fédération acadienne de la Nouvelle-Écosse (FANE) took legal action against the province, leading Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government to seek the advice of the NS Court of Appeal. In 2017, the court found that Landry had “thwarted” the 2012 electoral boundaries commission “in the performance of its constitutional mandate” and ruled that the commission should resubmit its initial report to the House of Assembly in the form of a bill. 

In response, the McNeil government established the Commission on Effective Electoral Representation of Acadian and African Nova Scotians (also called the Keefe Commission) and charged it with recommending the best ways to achieve effective representation for Acadians and African Nova Scotians. The commission published its report in 2018, and in addition to recommending ways to improve Acadian and African American representation, it also took note of the “steadily increasing population gap between urban and rural Nova Scotia” with most of the population “confined to a one hour radius of Halifax.”

The commission said that if the province were to retain 51 electoral districts “there would be fewer, but geographically larger, rural ridings,” so large as to “reduce rural access to MLAs” and “combine unrelated communities against their will.”

The alternative, it said, was to create more electoral districts. But rather than recommending this, the Keefe Commission recommended future boundary commissions produce two or more maps — “one at the current 51 seats and another at a higher number to inform the discussion about whether 51 seats will adequately provide effective representation for Nova Scotians in the future.”

Although, as it happened, the 2018-19 electoral boundaries commission was instructed to produce only one map, so drew one with 55 districts, including “the formerly protected districts of Argyle, Clare, Richmond, and Preston (and they almost added a fifth for Chéticamp).

They also redrew some boundaries and renamed some districts which, in Cape Breton, meant we went from this list of districts (for which I’ve included the number of electors):

Cape Breton Centre 12,494

Cape Breton-Richmond 10,852

Glace Bay 11,840

Inverness 11,140

Northside-Westmount 15,952

Sydney Whitney-Pier 17,224

Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg 15,071

Victoria-The-Lakes 12,193

To this list of districts:

Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier 14,496

Cape Breton East 13,490

Glace Bay-Dominion 13,429

Inverness 13,687

Northside-Westmount 15,952

Richmond 7,458

Sydney-Membertou 16,061

Victoria-The-Lakes 12,193

The average number of electors per seat remains unchanged at 13,346.



I’ve decided to ask questions of the candidates running in electoral districts partly or entirely contained within the CBRM, which means these districts:

CBRM Electoral Districts 2021 Provincial Election

I’ve generally posed the same set of questions, with slight modifications for incumbents, but the Spectator is nothing if not idiosyncratic so sometimes, I went off piste — as when I asked the Green Party candidate, Robbie Hussey, about climate change and former CBRM Mayor John Morgan (running for the NDP in Glace Bay-Dominion) about his party’s promises relating to FOIPOP and the public’s right to know.

I have received answers from almost all the candidates I queried and will update the articles to include any I receive before August 17 — Election Day.

I’m not paywalling these Q&A’s, so without further ado, meet your local candidates for the 2021 Nova Scotia general elections…