Legislation introduced today, March 27, will amend the House of Assembly Act to set mandatory terms of reference to guide electoral boundaries commissions in drawing the electoral map.
The proposed terms of reference include setting a standard for deviation from the average number of voters in electoral districts, and allowing a commission to create a district outside that standard in certain circumstances.
“These changes are about providing a fair and objective process for all Nova Scotians,” said Government House Leader Geoff MacLellan on behalf of Justice Minister Mark Furey. “We have based these amendments on the recommendations of the Commission on Effective Electoral Representation of Acadians and African Nova Scotians and we have been working with stakeholders.”
The amendments to the House of Assembly Act include the broad principles for setting electoral boundaries. The terms of reference would:
— allow for a standard for deviation from the average number of voters in an electoral district
— set the standard deviation at plus or minus 25 per cent of the average number of voters in an electoral district
— authorize the boundaries commission to exceed the standard deviation in exceptional circumstances. Deviation from electoral parity would be justified based on geography and may be justified because of historical, cultural or linguistic settlement patterns and because of political boundaries.
— provide the boundaries commission with authority to create non-contiguous electoral districts. The commission would have to determine that effective representation, including having an MLA that represents its constituents from a cultural and/or language perspective, is best achieved through non-contiguous electoral districts.
The proposed changes would ensure boundaries commissions are guided by a consistent set of principles, while giving the all-party select committee that establishes the commissions the option of setting additional terms of reference.
“Future boundary commissions will continue to engage communities and base their decisions on what they learn through public consultation,” said Mr. MacLellan. “These changes would ensure commissions can do their work without interference and have the authority to recommend boundaries that ensure communities or communities of interest are well represented.”
“We are encouraged by the proposed changes to the House of Assembly Act,” said Craig Smith, board chair and president of the Black Cultural Society of Nova Scotia. “These changes have the capacity to ensure a more diverse and inclusive provincial legislature. It is our hope that they will lead to a broader representation for the African-Nova Scotia and Acadian communities in the electoral process within our province.”
An electoral boundaries commission is expected to be struck by the end of the legislature’s spring sitting and will submit its final report in advance of the next election.