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OPINION: Time to dismiss, but not discuss

The rural community council for Souris West was dissolved by the minister of community affairs for violations with the new Municipal Government Act.
The rural community council for Souris West was dissolved by the minister of community affairs for violations with the new Municipal Government Act. - file photo

Minister sends letter advising council dismissed for rural municipality for contravention of MGA

BY PAT O’CONNOR

GUEST OPINION

"Hello, Minister Brown. Souris West Community Council calling. We are very concerned over the newly proclaimed Municipal Government Act and how it affects our rural community . . .”

Click. Actually, that statement was an illustration only, designed to simulate the non-communicative attitude of Minister Brown towards our rural residents. A real letter was sent to Minister Brown on Feb. 14, 2018 addressing concerns of Souris West Community Council and some of its neighboring incorporated councils over the effects of said MGA on our communities. To date we are still waiting for a reply to our letter.

However, on Sept. 28, 2018, our council did receive a letter from Minister Brown advising that the council for the rural municipality of Souris West has been dismissed due to clear contravention of the MGA. In short, for not preparing for the Nov. 5 election according to the schedule in the act.

To the residents of Souris West, please understand, we in no way intended to deprive you of your democratic right to choose your next volunteer council. We tried to communicate with the minister via his department, that the traditional way of publicly calling for nominations and an advertised public meeting to verify and vote, was a fair and affordable way to choose a council to administer the affairs of a small rural community with no assets or services. That process would have cost less than $500 for advertising and paper.

Our efforts, of course, were futile and leading to the above-mentioned dismissal resulting in the appointment of a one-man trustee from Charlottetown at a cost of more than $70 hr. plus 0.40 per km for mileage. This expense, plus the running of a day long election, is estimated to cost in the range of $6,000 - $7,000. The Souris West Council emergency fund and operating account will be drained and the balance will be paid for by other Island taxpayers.

I believe, in my opinion, the Government of P.E.I. is moving in the right direction in general with the MGA but they failed to consider the dramatic affect it would have on the rural regions i.e. unincorporated communities and those run by volunteer members of the community, of which ours, and many of our neighbors, are examples. We’ve seen this failure multiple times playing out in the media and government leadership has remained silent.

Our council felt we could never qualify under the MGA as a municipality and to attempt any aspect of it, including the costly election procedure, would be a waste of our time and resources, frankly deceiving ourselves and our residents into thinking we could. Instead, we wanted to conserve our time and resources and dedicate them to be part of a process to inclusively explore every aspect of how the MGA could work for our entire region, however that may look in the end.

We were struggling to begin this process. We were asking the minister for help. We had faith that we would be heard but we were not and the process has been stalled since Feb 14, 2018.

Mr. Premier, this Minister failed to communicate with one of his jurisdictions when he had ample time to do so. We didn’t deserve to be ignored. We didn’t deserve to be dismissed. We do deserve a response to our letter. We do deserve an apology from the minister. We do deserve to be reinstated.

On another note, the staff at municipal affairs did a stellar job listening and communicating with us throughout the seven-month wait, but were, understandably, powerless to address our concerns.

We do thank them for their efforts.

- Pat O’Connor, dismissed chairperson of Souris West Community Council

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