Around ten people attended the final public meeting on effective electoral representation September 14 at Digby Regional High School, which focused on what that looks like for African Nova Scotians in Digby.
And a significant majority agreed any solution will be anything but traditional, since most Africa Nova Scotian communities lack a central populace.
“If we had three MLA’s, one for the northern region, one centrally, and one for the southwest, that could be a solution,” said Paul Ash, superintendent of the Tri-County Regional School Board.
What the approach would look like
After Ash’s suggestion, several people spoke in agreement, saying this was precisely what they’d envisioned.
“I was just speaking to some other people about this exact same idea,” said Brenda Francis, the evening’s host.
“I think this approach could really work for us.”
The largest concentration of African Nova Scotians in the province is in Preston, where a riding existed previous to its 2012 dissolvement.
For the rest of the province, where community members are more spread out.
“These are the historic areas where black people have lived, and where representation would be key,” said Ash.
Infrastructural and financial supports key
Another crucial part of adequate representation would mean being given a proper chance to engage, according to those present at the meeting.
Brad Barton, a member of the Jordantown-Acaciaville-Conway Betterment Association and previous member of African Nova Scotian Affairs, said he has personally witnessed the struggles of ANSA, an association spread thin.
“This is what we keep coming back to, because we created infrastructure to support us when the government didn’t. Now it’s spread so thin, and we need funding once again, to allow it to do its job,” said Barton.
Martin Morrison, coordinator of Race Relations, Cross Cultural Understanding and Human Rights with the school board, agreed with Barton.
He also added that local infrastructure is also missing from many black communities, where many remain disengaged and voiceless as a result.
“We’re lucky in Digby to have a strong central infrastructure for people to get engaged with,” he said.
“Many communities don’t have that, and without it, no one is truly represented effectively.”
A unique format for dialogue
Commissioners Kenneth Deveau, Doug Keefe and Sharon David-Murdoch – who herself lived in Freeport for three years – bounced questions off those present, creating a constant flow of ideas and dialogue.
“We aren’t often so lucky, to be able to have a conversation like this,” said Keefe.
Gordon Wilson was also in attendance, and spoke of why proper representation is crucial to good governance.
“I’m probably the only MLA with two constituent offices: one in Digby, and one in Clare. It spreads me thin,” he said.
He spoke of his closeness with the African Nova Scotian community while growing up in Digby, a fact many echoed throughout the night.
But many, including Wilson, see it as a happy coincidence.
“We’ve lucked out with Gordon, who is close with us. What about next election?” wondered Francis, reaffirming why effective representation is not just wanted, but needed.
“We have an obligation to the younger generation to allow them access to their full potential,” said Barton.
“That starts with this.”