Monday, July 16, 2012

Nova Scotia federal riding boundary proposal analysis

Nova Scotia's current riding boundaries
Nova Scotia's federal boundary commission released its proposed boundaries on Thursday. Nova Scotia currently has 11 ridings, and will not be gaining any ridings. However, the commission did have to change some boundaries to reflect the population imbalance between the growing Halifax Metro area, and the rural areas, most of which is seeing a population decline.

Cape Breton Island has seen the most population loss in the province, and so the commission had to deal with that at one end of the province. Meanwhile, the Halifax West riding saw the largest population increase, and so that had to be dealt with as well. The result of these two areas shifting their boundaries to reflect population changes meant that most of the other ridings in the province had to be shifted over, in a domino effect.

Nova Scotia's proposed riding boundaries

The commission also decided to keep two ridings unchanged. The riding of Sydney—Victoria, on Cape Breton Island was un-altered despite having a net loss of 6000 people in the last 10 years. Its new population of 73,000 is 11,000 smaller than the provincial average. However, this is still within the 25% variance allowed by the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act. The other riding that was unchanged was the riding of Halifax (actually, there was a minor alteration that didn't displace any people in the process). The riding of Halifax now has 93,000 people – 9,000 more than the provincial average. In my opinion, the decision to leave Halifax alone was a bad idea, as it is a growing riding, and should be smaller. It also contains a few out ports that probably belong in a neighbouring riding, as they do not fit the urban character of the riding.

The Halifax Metro area saw the most changes in the proposal, with the riding of Sackville—Eastern Shore being altered the most. Some of the changes that are proposed seem rather odd, like splitting the community of Bedford up, or giving the Shubenacadie Grand Lake area to the riding of Kings—Hants. However some changes did make sense, such as moving the Eastern Passage area into the riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, which is a better fit than its present riding of Sackville—Eastern Shore which it is isolated from.

Politically, the NDP is probably the biggest beneficiaries of this map. Suddenly, ridings like South Shore—St. Margaret's, Halifax West and Central Nova become possible target ridings, while Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, a seat they hold presently becomes much safer. The only downside for the NDP is that Sackville—Eastern Shore becomes less safe for the party, but it's a super safe riding anyways, and the boundary changes wont take that fact away from them.

While the Conservatives should be worried about the possibility of losing a couple of ridings to the NDP, they should be comforted by the fact that West Nova becomes much safer for them, and Kings—Hants becomes a possible pick up. The Liberals on the other hand are the big losers here, as they may lose up to two of their four seats in the province.

Here is analysis of the nine ridings that will be changing: 

Cape Breton—Canso

The large losses of population on Cape Breton Island was not ignored by the commission. While both ridings on the island are still within the 25% population variance, it was decided to make the least populated of the two ridings, Cape Breton—Canso larger. Cape Breton—Canso is currently the least populated riding in the province, and is also the riding that is losing population the fastest. The riding currently spans the Strait of Canso, connecting rural parts of Cape Breton Island with the eastern half of Guysborough County on the mainland. The population of the riding is just 68,000, well bellow the provincial average of 84,000.

The commission decided to add population to the riding, so it moved the riding's western boundary further west, taking in more of the mainland. The proposed riding now takes in the eastern third of Antigonish County, including the community of Havre Boucher. The riding now includes more of Guysborough County as well taking in the eastern fifth of the District Municipality of St. Mary's. These alterations only add about 6000 people, apparently sufficient enough for the commission.

I'm not sure why the commission didn't just add all of Antigonish County to the riding, instead of making the awkward boundary (it splits up Antigonish County and St. Mary's) that it did. The proposed riding would isolate the eastern portion of St. Mary's with the rest of the riding, as it would only be connected via a Ferry to the rest of the riding. Another option would be to just let the two Cape Breton ridings be under populated, and maybe move the boundary eastward to make Cape Breton—Canso closer to the population of Sydney—Victoria. After all, Cape Breton Island shares a unique community of interest, and I believe should never have even cross the Strait of Canso in the first place. Even today, you can create two ridings on Cape Breton Island that would be within 25% of the average provincial riding. It would be close, but you can still do it. And why not? It makes more sense than what the New Brunswick commission did with Miramichi.

As for the name, I never understood why the riding wasn't named “Cape Breton—Guysborough” (after the Municipal District of Guysborough) or even Cape Breton—Chedabucto. What makes the Town of Canso so special? There are other communities on the mainland that are just important like Guysborough and Mulgrave. If the proposed changes go through though, Cape Breton—Canso might not be a bad name, as it could be said to be named after the Strait.

Politically, the Liberal riding of Cape Breton—Canso is about to get more Conservative, as it eats into the Tory held riding of Central Nova. All of the new territory gained is solidly Conservative, except for the Paq'tnkek Reserve which went NDP. However, Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner should still feel safe in this riding. 

Central Nova

This riding, named for its location in the province is another riding losing population, and is the second least populated riding in the province at 72,000. It even has less people than Sydney—Victoria on Cape Breton. With the commission moving Cape Breton—Canso westward, that means Central Nova has to lose another 6,000 people. So, the commission had to make Central Nova bigger. The commission recommended taking the Musquodoboit Valley from the riding of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley as well as that same valley located in the riding of Sackville—Eastern Shore. These changes bring the riding up to a population of 78,000. Still too small, but close enough. This change unites the entire Musquodoboit Valley in one riding which is nice. I never liked the name “Central Nova” for the riding, since the province's name (or in this case, part of it) should never be in a riding name (with the exception of Labrador). But, the alternative would be something long and contrived (how about Pictou—Antigonish—St. Mary's—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore?), so I guess it'll have to stay.

This riding went pretty comfortably for Conservative MP Peter McKay in 2011, but he has been targeted by opposition parties in the past. Most notable by Green Party leader Elizabeth May in 2008. This seat has been a fiefdom for the McKay family. His father held the riding for 21 years, and Peter McKay himself has held the seat since 1997. Since then, the NDP has been the closest to defeating him, coming within 3,300 votes of beating him in 2006. It may not be possible for the NDP to win the riding with its current boundaries, but it may be possible with the proposed boundaries. As mentioned, the areas being lost to Cape Breton—Canso are very Conservative, while the areas being gained are more NDP friendly. The western end of the Musquodoboit Valley is NDP friendly, while the new territory from Sackville—Eastern Shore went NDP, backing popular MP Peter Stoffer in that riding. Perhaps former NDP leadership contender Martin Singh, who would be living in this proposed riding would run and give McKay a run for his money?


At 88,000 people, the current riding of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, located in the province's north- is too large. But only by just 4000 people. Nevertheless the commission decided to remove the portions of the riding located within the Halifax Regional Municipality (the Musquodobit Valley area) to Central Nova. This takes out 6000 people, making the new population of the riding 82,000, now under the average. Now the riding solely consists of Cumberland and Colchester Counties. This change makes this safe Conservative riding even more safe, as it removes one of the best areas of the riding for the NDP.

Sackville—Porters Lake

The Halifax Metro area is pretty much the only part of the province seeing an increase in population, so the ridings located in this part of the province had to be altered quite a bit. No riding in the province saw its proposed boundary change more than this riding, which is currently called Sackville—Eastern Shore. Sackville—Eastern Shore is the second fastest growing riding in the province, and now has a population of 91,000. As mentioned earlier, a small chunk of the riding was removed and given to Central Nova (the area around Musquodoboit Harbour). As for the western boundary, it was significantly altered by the commission. Firstly, the area around Shubenacadie Grand Lake was removed and given to Kings—Hants. Secondly, it was decided to split the community of Bedford up by adding the eastern third of the community into the riding. The commission also added The Lakes area of Dartmouth to the riding, while at the same time removing the Eastern Passage part of the riding. I'm not sure the reason for these boundary changes. Splitting the community of Bedford seems rather bizarre. However, removing the Eastern Passage area makes sense as it is currently geographically isolated for the rest of the riding. Giving it to next-door Dartmouth—Cole Harbour is a good move. All of these changes put the population of the riding at 86,000. A good size for a riding.

Since the riding would no longer contain much of the Eastern Shore area of the province, the commission replaced “Eastern Shore” in the name of the riding, and added “Porters Lake”, a community in the eastern part of the riding. I don't like this name though, as it excludes all of the area between Sakcville which is at one end of the riding and Porters Lake which is at the other. It also totally ignores all of that part of Dartmouth now in the riding. Why not name the riding “Sackville—The Lakes”, as it takes in the Lakes district of Dartmouth, and the rest of the riding is also spotted with many lakes. You can't go far in the proposed riding without hitting a lake.

The riding is presently the safest NDP riding in the province, thanks to the popularity of Peter Stoffer, the MP. However, the changes to his riding might put a dint into his numbers. The Lakes District of Dartmouth and eastern Bedford are both Liberal areas, and they're being added to the riding. The parts of the riding he would be losing are safe NDP areas, but then again it's hard for any part of this riding to not lose NDP areas. On the bright side for Stoffer, all three Conservative polls in his riding would be removed and given to nearby ridings.

Dartmouth—Cole Harbour

Dartmouth—Cole Harbour currently has a population of 89,000. Slightly too big, but not a huge deal. However, thanks to the new western boundary of the Sackville riding, the whole riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour moved south. It loses the Lakes District of Dartmouth, but gains the Eastern Passage area from Sackville—Eastern Shore. This area, as mentioned, is geographically isolated from the rest of the riding. With the new addition, I would like to see the riding's name changed to “Dartmouth—Cole Harbour—Eastern Passage”. The area gained has about the same population as the area lost, meaning the population wouldn't change. However, what would change is the riding's politics. In 2011, the current NDP MP, Robert Chisholm won by just 500 votes over the incumbent Liberal MP, Michael Savage. The proposed changes to the riding's boundaries would make the riding more NDP friendly. It removes the Liberal Lakes District, and adds the Eastern Passage area which was loyal to NDP MP Peter Stoffer.

Halifax West

Halifax West, which includes the western suburbs of the city is also the fastest growing riding in the province, and the most populous, being home to 98,000. This makes the riding much too large, and it needs to lose people. The commission proposed removing the eastern third of Bedford, as well as the Terrence Bay area, which was geographically isolated from the rest of the riding anyways, being an out port on the Atlantic Ocean, miles away from the rest of the riding. These two changes bring the riding down to a population of 86,000.

Halifax West was a tight three-way race in 2011, with the Liberal MP Geoff Regan taking the seat by 2500 votes over the Conservative candidate, and 3000 votes over the NDP candidate. Losing Bedford is bad news for Regan, as the area being lost is a strong Liberal community. Most of the population being lost is in this area. However, the rural out ports in the southern end of the riding which are also being lost were not so friendly to Regan. Much of this area voted NDP and Conservative. The proposed changes make the riding less Liberal friendly, but I do not believe the put either the Tories or NDP on top. But it does make things a lot closer, and Regan should be concerned.

South Shore—St. Margaret's

At 82,000, South Shore—St. Margaret's makes for a good riding size. However, due to the shrinking Halifax West riding, which neighbours South Shore—St. Margaret's on the east, the whole South Shore riding had to be moved over to the east. The commission proposed moving the Terrence Bay area from Halifax West to South Shore—St. Margaret's. To compensate for this change, the western boundary of the riding had to be moved eastward. The commission decided to remove the western part of the District Municipality of Barrington (including Cape Sable Island)- basically the part of the municipality west of Barrington Bay. The changes increase the population of the riding by just 1000 people. Personally, I would rename this riding to “South Shore”, as St. Margaret's Bay is still part of the South Shore, and the new addition of Terrence Bay is as well (but it not on St. Magaret's Bay). The current name implies the South Shore region ends at St. Margaret's, and leaves out the new addition of Terrence Bay.

The last few elections in this riding have been heavily competitive, but Conservative MP Gerald Keddy has hung on to the riding. The 2008 race was decided by less than 1,000 votes. With the unpopularity of the provincial governing NDP, Keddy was able to defeat his New Democratic opponent by a larger margin in 2011, winning the seat by just under 3,000 votes. If the next election proves to be another close one on the south shore, then the new boundaries will make an NDP pick up more likely. The Terrence Bay area being added to the riding is more NDP than it is Tory, while the Barrington West/Cape Sable Island area being lost is solidly Tory.

West Nova

With 84,000 people, the West Nova riding is the perfect size for a riding in Nova Scotia, as it is also the provincial average. However, the riding is losing people quite quickly, and it wont be long before it is below the average. I suppose this is why the commission decided there was no problem with increasing the riding's population by adding the Barrington West area from South Shore—St. Margaret's. This change is fairly significant, adding 6,000 people to the riding. It also makes the riding significantly less Francophone. 15% of the riding is currently Francophone, the largest proportion in Nova Scotia adding Barrington West and Cape Sable Island to the riding would make the Francophone population even more a minority in this riding. I believe that it is unnecessary to make West Nova even smaller due to this fact. As for the name, as I mentioned in my analysis of Central Nova, I don't like these types of names, but as is the case for Central Nova, it is unavoidable here. Especially with the new territory. Calling it “Kings—Annapolis—Digby—Yarmouth—Barrington West” would be ridiculous.

West Nova has had some very close elections over the years. The riding has not been decided by more than 5,000 votes since 1993. Both the Liberals and the Tories are very competitive in this area, and so any boundary changes are going to make a big difference here. The current MP for the riding is Greg Kerr, a Conservative. He won the seat by 4,600 votes over the former MP, Liberal Robert Thibault. This was there third re-match after Thibault won in 2006 by 500 votes and Kerr won it in 2008 by 1,600 votes. Unsurprisingly, the Francophone parts of the riding are the most Liberal parts (or at least most pro-Thibault, who is a Francophone). And as the riding becomes more Anglophone with the addition of the Barrington West & Cape Sable Island areas, the area becomes more Conservative (the area votes Conservative anyways), turning this riding into a relatively safe Tory seat.


At 83,000, Kings—Hants is a nicely sized riding, just under the provincial average. However, the commission decided to remove the Shubenacadie Grand Lake area from Sackville—Eastern Shore and put it in with Kings—Hants. This addition adds 5000 people to the riding. I'm not sure why this was done, as it adds a Halifax area (the area is within the Halifax Regional Municipality) to a riding that is based more in northern Nova Scotia. This shift in my opinion wasn't necessary. However, if the commission does go with this plan, I would propose changing the name of the riding to “Hants—Kings—Shubenacadie”. This is because the Subenacadie Grand Lake area is neither in Kings nor Hants County. Hants should go first in the name because the riding contains all of Hants County, and only half of Kings County.

The area being gained is a strong NDP area, because it comes from Peter Stoffer's district, and he is a very popular MP. However, Kings—Hants is not an NDP riding. It is a comeptitive riding between the Liberals and Tories. So, the question is, will the new territory go Liberal or Conservative? Provincially this area is an NDP district, but before the NDP won it, it was Tory. Plus, the Tories finished a distant second in the area in the 2011 federal election. Liberal MP Scott Brison only won in 2011 by 1,110 votes, so this change could put him in jeopardy of losing the riding. 

You can read more about the proposals on the redistribution website, here.


  1. The present three south ridings needed no change: West Nova at 0.998 quotient, Kings--Hants at 0.994, and South Shore - St. Margaret's at 0.982. But Halifax has 4.66 quotients, and after deducting the 9,253 in St. Margaret's, Halifax still has 4.55 quotients. So they had to hide some of those embarrasing Haligonians in Kings--Hants where (as you point out) they don't belong, hide some more in Central Nova (somehow by-passing Truro, Halifax's closest urban centre), hide some more in South Shore - St. Margaret's (meaning they have to stuff some more unnecessarily into West Nova) and hide some more by super-sizing all four Halifax ridings. The fact is, Halifax voters deserve four ridings and 0.55 of a fifth one. That looked like Sackville-Truro to me. It still does.

  2. Two things:

    1)I think Halifax should be a 100% urban riding. Never understood why the southern Outports are still there.

    2)I do think that Peter Stoffer have a larger personal vote then his party. Provincially, it's not that NDP.

    Quebec and Ontario will be interesting to see soon!

  3. Quebec is already out. I am not liking what I see.

  4. The problem in terms of Nova Scotia is it splits the former City of Dartmouth in half. If it was important to put Eastern Passage into Dartmouth then Cole Harbour should have been split off.