SHERBROOKE – With a wave of its legislative wand, the Nova Scotia government has divided the vast and sprawling provincial riding of Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie into the somewhat less vast and sprawling Guysborough-Tracadie and the expanded riding of Eastern Shore.
The change – which officially springs to life either in March or just prior to the next provincial election (whichever comes first) – reduces both the constituency’s geographic area and eligible voter list by about 25 per cent – from 5,300 square kilometres to roughly 4,000, and from 10,000 residents to approximately 7,500. Bill 187 (the House of Assembly Act) received Royal Assent in October.
“To put things into perspective, the whole of Prince Edward Island is only 5,500 square kilometres,” said Guysborough-Eastern-Shore-Tracadie MLA Lloyd Hines.
The current riding – which was configured in 2012 – stretches from Auld’s Cove on the Straight of Canso to Newcombes Brook, including Sheet Harbour, at the eastern end of coastal HRM. The new riding of Guysborough-Tracadie will stop at Ecum Secum.
Henceforth, Sheet Harbour voters will vote with their neighbours, west of the new district line to Eastern Passage, in the expanded riding of Eastern Shore, which will contain approximately 15,720 voters, compared with the current 12,393.
It’s not yet clear how the move will affect daily lives in Guysborough-area communities. “I don’t expect any major difference for us,” said Municipality of St. Mary’s District Warden Michael Mosher. “I can’t state that it won’t affect us at all. But it (probably won’t) impact us directly.”
Hines, on the other hand, couldn’t be happier. Never a fan of the 2012 boundary map, he thinks the new borders will make serving the area more efficient and straightforward for whomever represents it in Government.
“For a long, long time, the marriage between of eastern Halifax communities like Sheet Harbour and Guysborough have not worked, because there’s no common denominators between the two,” he said. “Apart from the Guysborough Journal, there’s not even a common media source serving both.”
What’s more, he added, “health, education, and other community services are all delivered to the Sheet Harbour area out of Halifax. Everything else in the riding gets delivered out of Antigonish or New Glasgow or Sydney. Then, there’s the whole issue of representation. Right now, it takes four hours to drive across the riding. It’s a one-way, half-day trip for a resident to get to a constituency office.”
In fact, at one point, Hines did try running a satellite operation – separate from his main office in Guysborough – in Sheet Harbour. But though the Province allows MLAs to claim a maximum of between $5,454 and $5,828 a month for office and constituency-related travel expenses (in Guysborough-Eastern-Shore-Tracadie, specifically, the MLA’s office also qualifies for an additional, annual allocation of $18,558), there’s no room for top-ups, even for geographically unwieldy ridings. The HRM experiment in local representation ran out of money after only a year.
Although last year’s redistribution was not widely publicized, it was actually part of a planned process, required by the House of Assembly Act, to establish an independent electoral boundaries commission roughly every ten years.
According to 2018-19 Commissioner Glenn Graham, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, “This process – undertaken since 1991 – involves conducting public hearings across the province and working with Elections N.S. to redraw the electoral boundaries where necessary. It creates fairness and independence by keeping the politics, politicians, and therefore partisanship out of redistricting, especially in the form of gerrymandering, which we can still see evidence of in the U.S.”
The current changes to the electoral map elsewhere in the province have restored “exceptional status” for Clare, Argyle, Richmond, and Preston ridings where – the commission felt – previously fair and proper representation for Acadian and/or African American Nova Scotians had been compromised by judicial interference following the 2012 redistricting.
As for eastern Nova Scotia, Graham said, “On first look at the previous electoral map, Guysborough-Eastern Shore-Tracadie was unwieldy, stretching some 230-or-so km in geographic ‘length.’ Considering how difficult it could be for citizens to access an MLA (and for the MLA to travel to them) we felt that the riding could be made smaller, taking in geographic considerations as laid out in the terms of reference. We felt that this would allow for more effective representation for the residents. While the number of electors in that riding would be significantly lower than the Nova Scotian average, we felt that geography justified creating the newer, more manageable riding.”
The next electoral boundaries commission in the province is not scheduled to convene until 2028.