Return of ‘protected ridings’ sees N.S. riding with full slate of Black candidates

While in general not in favour of “protected riding” or deliberate drawing of borders based upon ethnic ancestry or visible minority or other groups, in some cases like this one can be justified to improve representation.

At the federal level, this largely happens more or less organically for the larger groups given settlement patterns:

In the provincial riding of Preston, just east of Halifax, a historic political race is underway.

“One of the things that’s really important, and I think so many people are talking about, is the fact that all three of us are local in particular and African Nova Scotian,” Liberal candidate Angela Simmonds said of the candidates facing off to represent the riding.

Simmonds, along with NDP candidate Colter Simmonds and Progressive Conservative candidate Archy Beals, make up the slate for the largely African Nova Scotian riding in the Aug. 17 general election. It’s believed to be the first time in the province’s history an electoral district has all Black candidates.

It’s thanks in part to the reinstatement two years ago of Preston, along with three largely Acadian ridings — Argyle, Clare and Richmond. In 2019, the Liberal government introduced legislation to bring back the so-called protected ridings after the previous NDP government did away with them in 2012, saying there were too few voters in them.

With the reinstatement, the province once again has 55 ridings, up from 51 in the last election.

Other provinces have ridings of varying sizes, typically to ensure rural voters are well represented. But Nova Scotia’s protected ridings are unique for the fact that they shield so-called “historical minorities” from redistribution, said James Bickerton, a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University.

The ridings were initially formed in the 1990s to ensure effective representation of Acadian and African Nova Scotian voters and to protect them from electoral redistribution, “which would dilute the populations considerably to the point where minorities would no longer be the majority within the constituency,” Bickerton said.

He was on the electoral boundaries commission that concluded in 2012 that the ridings should remain. But he said the commission was threatened by then-attorney general Ross Landry, who claimed the recommendation did not respect the commission’s terms of reference.

The movement to reinstate the special districts followed a court victory by the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia. The province’s Appeal Court ruled that the redrawn map violated democratic rights guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Effective representation was at play … the argument being that Francophones and African Nova Scotians could only have effective representation if they had representatives in the legislature from their communities,” Bickerton said. “Protected ridings doesn’t guarantee it, but it certainly makes it much more likely.”

Andrew Griffith, a fellow at the Environics Institute, a public opinion and social research organization, said ridings with large minority populations tend to elect candidates with similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds. He gave the example of Indo-Canadians.

“If you look at a place that has a large Indo-Canadian population, whether immigrants or citizens, the candidates and the MPs tend to come from those communities,” Griffith said. “Having your electoral districts be aligned not only to the overall population balance, but to recognize that some communities may be relatively under-represented because they’re too dispersed across the province or across the country, I think it’s a valid rationale.”

Glenn Graham, a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University, echoed the sentiment, adding that the goal of the ridings is effective representation, not necessarily absolute voter parity, which is the idea that each vote carries the same weight. Voter parity, however, could also limit the voices of minority voters, he said.

When the latest changes were made in 2019, the four protected ridings had voting populations ranging from 6,451 in Argyle to 10,781 in Preston, well below the provincial average of 14,356 electors per riding.

“With all the major political parties running an African Nova Scotian candidate, it’s a guarantee that there will be an African Nova Scotian representing the area,” Beals said in a recent interview. He added that the area comes with specific cultural issues, including education and business development, of which the candidates have an intimate understanding. “Who best to address them than someone in the community, from the community?” he said.

As for the Acadian ridings, Marie-Claude Rioux, the executive director of the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, said in an interview that the change “gives Acadians a better chance to elect someone that will know their needs,” such as French-language health services.

But while the community was glad to see the three Acadian ridings restored, Rioux said the federation plans on fighting for more representation, namely a riding for Cheticamp, an Acadian community in Cape Breton.

Moving toward effective representation, Graham said, is about “having someone that you feel may look like you in the legislature, or is a reflection of your lived experience in the legislature.”

And with the newly reinstated ridings, Angela Simmonds said she now has an opportunity to engage with the constituents of the riding at a more personal level.

“I think when you see someone who looks like you there is an appreciation for one’s lived experiences,” she said.

Source: Return of ‘protected ridings’ sees N.S. riding with full slate of Black candidates