It is evident from this display that Acadian pride and heritage is important in the Municipality of Argyle, and the message was just as evident when people spoke to the members of a commission seeking input on how best to achieve effective representation for Acadians and African Nova Scotians.
On the Acadian front, speaker after speaker said the best and easiest way to achieve effective representation is to reinstate the protected Acadian ridings that were done away with years ago.
Norbert LeBlanc told the commission it was good to see that when they decided to consult the Acadian community, “You didn’t forget us.” But just as important as not being forgotten, he said, is not being ignored.
He recalled the 300 to 400 people who came to an electoral boundaries commission session in Tusket in 2012 who clearly explained they wanted the protected Acadian ridings maintained.
But the NDP government of the day rejected an interim commission report calling for the status quo – saying the numbers of electorates wasn’t in keeping with the commission’s terms of reference – and then, LeBlanc said, the government continued to ignore their voices when Acadian residents made the same plea at subsequent sessions.
Cyrille LeBlanc told the commission people were not happy when the Acadian ridings were eliminated. Asked by commission member Kenneth Deveau whether MLAs from Acadian ridings should be representing just their constituents or representing Acadian issues province-wide, LeBlanc said it could be both. But one thing he and others said should not be considered is having MLAs at large instead of having Acadian ridings with MLAs.
Argyle Deputy Warden Danny Muise said representation at large would never be the way to go. He said Acadians deserve MLAs who can represent them in their own ridings, not someone who lives hundreds of kilometres away. And at election time who would Acadians vote for in a situation like that? The MLA in their riding, or an MLA at large?
Argyle CAO Alain Muise pointed to a decrease in voter turnout percentage during the last election when people were voting in the riding of Argyle-Barrington. Traditionally in the Argyle riding, he said, voter turnout had been higher as people voted with passion and interest. Muise also spoke of the need for people who have difficulty communicating and navigating in the English language to have someone representing and helping them at the provincial level.
Chris d’Entremont is the MLA for the Argyle-Barrington riding and was the last Acadian MLA for the Argyle riding. One thing he stressed to the commission is that if committees are put in place to choose electoral boundary commission representatives, there needs to be an equal balance of the three parties. Otherwise, if the governing party has more say it could sway the process.
“You need to take the politics out of it,” he said.
D’Entremont also spoke against the idea of an Acadian MLA at large, saying that person wouldn’t be as accessible as needed to the electorates. He noted the issues and needs often vary greatly in urban versus rural parts of the province.
The Federation Acadienne de la Nouvelle Ecosse (FANE) had challenged the elimination of the protected ridings in court and earlier this year the N.S. Court of Appeal sided with the FANE saying the move was unconstitutional. And yet, says the FANE, the Liberal government called the last provincial election without making changes to the ridings.
Following the commission sessions in Saulnierville and Tusket, FANE president Marie-Claude Rioux said, “I think the presentations are fantastic. I think people have put lots of thought into it. And I also thought that they feel some fatigue. They’re frustrated that they have to say the same thing over and over again. But they are still coming so I think it shows how important this issue is.”
Commission member Kenneth Deveau spoke of that fatigue but he urged people not to get discouraged and to continue to participate in the process.
This commission will file a report to the province by Nov. 1. There won’t be any changes to ridings as a result of its work. Whether things change or not from a ridings perspective will be the task of the next electoral boundaries commission.