Commission's Report – Nova Scotia

Introduction

By proclamation, on February 21, 2012, the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for the Province of Nova Scotia (the Commission) was established under and by virtue of the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. E-3 (the Act).

The Commission is composed of Dr. Louise Carbert, a political science professor, and Mr. David Blaikie, a law professor, both of Dalhousie University, who were appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the Honourable Justice Allan P. Boudreau, the Chair, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, who was appointed by the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

The Commission’s task is to establish, or more properly stated to readjust, the boundaries of federal electoral districts (sometimes called ridings or constituencies) in accordance with population figures established for the Province by the 2011 decennial census. The Province is now divided into 11 electoral districts, and that number will not change.

The 2011 Census established the population of Nova Scotia at 921,727. The population divided by the number of electoral districts gives an average, or “electoral quota”, of 83,793 people per electoral district. The population of each electoral district must correspond as closely as is reasonably possible to that electoral quota. The Act provides, however, that the Commission may deviate from that quota to take account of certain factors such as community of interest or identity, historical patterns, and manageable geographic size. Section 15 of the Act specifically directs that in establishing boundaries, the Commission be governed by the following rules:

  • (1) [...] (a) the division of the province into electoral districts and the description of the boundaries thereof shall proceed on the basis that the population of each electoral district in the province as a result thereof shall, as close as reasonably possible, correspond to the electoral quota for the province, that is to say, the quotient obtained by dividing the population of the province as ascertained by the census by the number of members of the House of Commons to be assigned to the province as calculated by the Chief Electoral Officer under subsection 14(1); and
  • (b) the commission shall consider the following in determining reasonable electoral district boundaries:
    • (i) the community of interest or community of identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province, and
    • (ii) a manageable geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of the province.
  • (2) The commission may depart from the application of the rule set out in paragraph (1)(a) in any case where the commission considers it necessary or desirable to depart therefrom
    • (a) in order to respect the community of interest or community of identity in or the historical pattern of an electoral district in the province, or
    • (b) in order to maintain a manageable geographic size for districts in sparsely populated, rural or northern regions of the province,
    but, in departing from the application of the rule set out in paragraph (1)(a), the commission shall make every effort to ensure that, except in circumstances viewed by the commission as being extraordinary, the population of each electoral district in the province remains within twenty-five per cent more or twenty-five per cent less of the electoral quota for the province.

In conjunction with the provisions of the Act, the Commission’s decisions must be guided by the Constitution Act, 1982, in particular the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Canadian citizens the right to vote in federal and provincial elections. This right has been interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada in a manner that sets constitutional criteria for the drawing of electoral boundaries.

In what is known as “the Carter decision”, which was released on June 6, 1991, and deals with provincial electoral boundaries in Saskatchewan, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the purpose of the right to vote, as guaranteed by section 3 of the Charter, is not equality of voting power by itself but the right to “effective representation”. First and foremost, the Court ruled, “effective representation” requires “relative parity of voting power”. Absolute equality of population size among electoral districts, the Court ruled, was not required. Rather, deviations from equality of population size for the purpose of accommodating communities of interest or identity, historical patterns, or manageable geographic size are “justified on the ground that they contribute to better government of the populace as a whole”. In other words, variation from the electoral quota is permitted by the Act where the Commission considers it necessary or desirable.





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