Nova Scotia’s Liberal government will have a legal fight on its hands if it calls an election without first using a formal commission to redraw the province’s electoral boundaries, warns the Official Opposition.
The government has been forced to address boundaries after a January court ruling that found the previous NDP government was wrong to force an independent commission to redraw three predominantly French-speaking ridings to have them include a larger, English-speaking population.
Michel Samson, the minister responsible for the Office of Acadian Affairs, is refusing to divulge the government’s response to the ruling as it talks to the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia about how to proceed.
But Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said Thursday that the government’s approach smacks of an old fashioned “back room deal” to draw the electoral lines. He said the legislature has to be recalled to deal with the issue.
“We have to set up a tripartite committee to draw the boundaries like we always do so that people can have confidence that they’re fair, that (members of the public) are effectively represented when they cast their ballot, and that we have a legitimate government after the next election.”
Baillie said if the proper process isn’t followed, the Liberal government risks an election which could be declared unconstitutional by the courts.
“We are looking at the legal options available to us at this time, I can’t pick the one that we will go down quite yet,” Baillie said.
An election could come later this year.
Samson said the outcome of discussions with the federation will be made public, but the government won’t reveal what is being said while talks are ongoing.
“To respect that I’m not going to get into the details of those discussions,” said Samson.
Samson has previously said that the government is open to having an independent boundaries commission examine the province’s 51 ridings. Normally, the commissions are appointed every 10 years, which under regular circumstances means the work wouldn’t be undertaken until 2022.
But Samson has also said there is nothing in provincial legislation that prevents a commission from being formed earlier.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it’s clear what needs to be done before an election is called.
“We think the court’s judgment is clear that the present boundaries are unconstitutional,” said Burrill. “Therefore the system we have for establishing boundaries should be instituted – there’s lots of time to do it.”
In its decision, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal found the previous NDP government violated the voting rights section of the Charter of Rights.