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OPINION: The rush to amalgamate

A map featuring several of the communities which are part of the West River amalgamation
A map featuring several of the communities which are part of the West River amalgamation - Contributed

Province pushed amalgamation process to find tax dollars to match the $366 million allocated by Ottawa



We have been watching media coverage of late concerning the amalgamation process taking place in communities throughout the province. The way the CBC and the Guardian tell the story, the residents of Three Rivers and the West River Group, have voted for amalgamation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the past year, the communities have been meeting to address the requirements of the Municipal Governance Act (MGA) passed in December 2017. In April 2018, Stantec Consulting and MSRB Consulting were contracted by West River to prepare a study to examine the effects of the changes required by the Act. Two public consultations were held in June 2018 and on 28 August 2018 the final report was presented to the public.

In the beginning, the five communities of the West River Group met with the general public on June 14, 2018 to present information on municipal restructuring and the potential consequences. After the presentation, an open forum was held and a lively discussion ensued over local services delivery and options that might be available which dictated further inquiries and clarification. A second public meeting was held June 20, 2018 to address those concerns as best possible.

At that time, a poll was conducted wherein 62 from a community of 3,154 residents participated - less than 1 per cent of the population. The community was given several weeks to consider the information presented. On Sept. 28, 2018, a final meeting of the communities was held to receive feedback from Stantec and MRSB on the feasibility of amalgamation. At the end of the process a press statement was prepared and released.

The press release stated specifically the results were representative of a poll to gauge community interest. The release compiled by the community was worded in a manner that was supposed to reassure the residents that the results were not a binding vote. Still both the CBC and the Guardian released the results, claiming the residents had voted in favour of amalgamation. Less than 9 per cent of the population participated in the poll. Hardly a vote of confidence for amalgamation.

Meanwhile, the Three Rivers Group was conducting the same exercise in eastern P.E.I. and the results were found to be similar to those in West River. In Three Rivers, 431 out of 7,500 voted yes, while 1,432 voted no but their vote was not counted because they lived in an unincorporated area. To give the jurisdiction some semblance of order, a frustrated government appointed an interim council.

More recently, Minister Brown dismissed the entire council in Souris/ Souris West because the municipality did not, in his mind, comply with the MGA guidelines when readying for the Nov. 5 election. From all appearances, he did not consult with the mayor until his impetuous behaviour became an embarrassment.

If you have read this to here you are probably thinking that this is a complicated and confusing issue. You are right. It is and it was. The provincial government seemed determined to force the issue come hell or high water. One has to wonder what is the rush and why is there little or no flexibility. The conclusion one might come to is that the province wants to have the amalgamation process in place soon, in order that they may find the provincial tax dollars to match the $366 million dollars infrastructure money allocated by Ottawa.

Could it be that the current government wants to have all $366 million of the infrastructure funding allocated before the next provincial election. In this way, our current administration will be in a position to coast for the next decade, while a new minority government, should that arise, prophecies about political /social change and environmental issues.

Perhaps it is a sign of the times but it is getting more difficult to believe anything our government proposes. People have become more skeptical of top-down party politics and much of that skepticism can be attributed to the fact that our government has been less then forthcoming with the voters. The notion that we live in a democratic society has become far-fetched.

- Wayne Carver, Long Creek is a founder of Vision P.E.I. and comments frequently on social issues

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