Montague decision to nix amalgamation made in haste

Published on January 16, 2016

Town of Montague

For a time, it seemed that amalgamation of the Three Rivers area was an achievable goal. Those hopes were dealt a potentially-lethal blow this week when Montague town council said a resounding no to the idea of uniting seven eastern Prince Edward Island communities.

Montague Mayor Richard Collins and many of his council went on record to suggest the boundaries of the Three Rivers region are too big and too far in distance to become one super town of some 8,000 people.

One could argue the size of municipal boundaries and regional co-operation are only limited by the narrow scope and thinking of the political leaders involved.

Montague says it won’t take part in further discussions. The town is taking its ball and going home.

“And we also have a feeling that to bring in two towns, both 100 years old, may not be the right mix,” adds Mayor Collins. There is the real roadblock. Under amalgamation, Three Rivers civic government might logically locate to Georgetown, the historic capital of Kings County, and site of the county courthouse. The port and heavy industry could once again boom if naval shipbuilding contracts come its way.

Montague is the service centre – with stores, grocery chains, a shopping mall, schools, restaurants, hospital, curling club and a new recreational complex. There is no reason why the two towns couldn’t share the pie as partners. Apparently Montague felt it might lose some influence.

So the status quo is good enough for Montague even though the march to amalgamation is coming  - by carrot or stick. The province has a report calling for 70 P.E.I. units to be reduced to 20.  The government would prefer communities to act first instead of waiting for legislation but the economies of scale would eventually force the hand of the province.

The Phil Wood consultant’s report predicted benefits for Three Rivers – the larger unit would induce more people to live there and provincial grants would double. There was no talk of tax increases – the usual deal-breaker in amalgamation discussions, especially for rural areas.

The report was tabled in mid-December and the plan was to take the report back to councils for discussion and involve public input. Montague council decided it had seen and heard enough and wasn’t interested in gathering public opinion.

It’s essential to let citizens have a voice in this great endeavor. It shouldn't be an issue to hold public meetings on the report and allow councils to gauge citizens’ reaction before reaching such an important decision.

As a parting olive twig, Mayor Collins said if amalgamation does go forward in the future, the boundaries of the town should be expanded to areas only served by the Montague fire district. That would include Montague, Lower Montague, Valleyfield, Brudenell and several unincorporated areas. It’s obvious that Montague wants nothing to do with Lorne Valley, Cardigan or Georgetown.

Brudenell, with its concentration of businesses, is the real prize for Montague. The commercial tax rate in the town made it attractive for car dealerships, equipment dealers and even the RCMP barracks to set up shop outside town limits.

Montague pointedly said it will no longer participate in further discussions or an upcoming meeting on amalgamation. To their credit, the other six areas say they are going forward and will give amalgamation a thorough review with the hope of success.

Montague could well find itself a lone outpost in the middle of a greater municipality. Town residents, faced with progress marching past them, should demand a chance to have their voices heard – through a plebiscite or at least an open meeting. Instead of being in a position to dictate terms, the town could find itself isolated.

A day after council reached its decision on the consultant’s report, HGC Canada call centre announced it was closing down and taking 65 jobs with it. In its heyday since opening in 2002, HGC had approximately 150 people working there, a massive boost to the local economy.

The call centre is closing because the area work force is too limited and prevented HGS from producing the scale that the business required to be sustainable.

Three Rivers amalgamation was projected to stabilize the local population and make it more attractive for more people to move to the area.

The first reaction to Montague’s decision to reject amalgamation certainly isn’t a favourable one.