Bruce MacDougall, president of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, speaks to the organization’s annual general meeting, Monday in Linkletter.
LINKLETTER - Premier Wade MacLauchlan got a big round of applause Monday afternoon from the assembled delegates of the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities.
MacLauchlan made two commitments during his address to the group’s annual general meeting that elicited that response: one was to revisit the issue of how municipalities receive money from the province, and the other was to introduce a new municipalities act by the spring of 2016.
Of all the issues the FPEIM has dedicated its attention to over the past number of years, these two ranked among the top of its priorities.
MacLauchlan said he’s interested in using his new mandate to help empower municipalities to tackle some of the issues they have.
“Our government considers municipal and community government to be a priority,” he said.
“We see local government as an essential partner in serving the people of our province.”
But while MacLauchlan found support on those two issues, he also delved into a far more controversial subject: amalgamation and the Thompson Report.
The 2012 Thompson Report recommended the Island’s more than 70 municipalities be cut down to less than 20, and it’s been a topic of discussion ever since.
But nobody at the meeting wanted to say ‘amalgamation,’ because the word has too much negative baggage.
Instead, they were using words like ‘regionalization’ and ‘unification.’
The premier talked a lot about the creation of the new Department of Communities, Land and Environment and said he sees the department as a resource for municipalities who want to explore amalgamation, which he argued would allow for the better provision of services.
“Language is important in this business. I think we should all shy away from the ‘A’ word,” said MacLauchlan.
“Regionalization is one good word…That question of what we call something, right from those first conversations, will then set the tone and be an important part of how things turn out.”
He also reiterated that the government’s preference would be for municipalities to voluntarily start working towards unification with their neighbours.
FPEIM president, Bruce MacDougall, has been a proponent of amalgamation of the smaller P.E.I. communities, so long as it is voluntary.
He used his address to encourage more dialogue on the subject.
“For a long time people avoided the topic of change to the Island’s municipal boundaries; amalgamation was a filthy word. But these views are gradually changing,” said MacDougall.
Tignish Mayor Allan McInnis said he’s open to exploring amalgamation, but he stressed that there needs to be a payoff of some form for smaller municipalities or they will continue to vehemently resist change.
“If we can work together and come up with a scenario where they (small communities) are going to see some benefit from it,” said McInnis.
“But so long as we go with ‘you’re going to pay an extra $500 a year in taxes and you’re not going to get anything for it,’ – we can’t do that, it wouldn’t be right.”
Brian Harding is a councillor from one of those smaller communities, Brudenell, and he’s not convinced residents from smaller municipalities have the stomach for amalgamation, so he’s happy the premier is leaving the choice up to Islanders.
“If you go by this they’re not going to make us – but time will tell,” said Harding.