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Municipalities taking province to court over amalgamation

Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers said today the mergers will proceed regardless of what happens in the courts.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers said today the mergers will proceed regardless of what happens in the courts.

The organization that represents Manitoba municipalities is going to court in an attempt to block what it calls the "forced nature" of the Selinger government’s plan to get small municipalities to merge.

It’s the latest salvo in a year-old battle between the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) and 32 municipalities — only six are named in the court action — to get the province to relent on its pledge to see municipalities merged in time for the October 2014 municipal elections.

AMM president Doug Dobrowolski said the court fight is needed to bring "procedural fairness" to the merger process that affects 87 municipalities.

Dobrowolski said AMM is not against amalgamation — it’s against the process, tight deadline and the heavy hand of the province in dictating how municipalities should proceed on merging with their neighbours. AMM and the Opposition progressive Conservatives have argued amalgamations should take placed over the next four years, not months.

He also said on Oct. 30 the province sent letters to 11 of the 32 municipalities that outlined terms of amalgamation, including the name of the merged municipalities and location of municipal office.

"Unfortunately, the Province of Manitoba has left us no choice," he said.

Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers said today the mergers will proceed regardless of what happens in the courts.

Struthers said it should be local leaders who make amalgamation plans, not a judge.

He said the letters were only a template for amalgamation, not a fait accompli.

He said the government is willing to work with each municipality to submit merger plans to meet a Feb. 1 deadline, extended from Dec. 1.

Struthers has said the time-line was created after he met with officials from about 80 communities at the recent AMM meeting in Brandon.

Under the controversial Bill 33, the province wants municipalities under 1,000 population to amalgamate with larger communities before the 2014 municipal elections. The government has said nearly half of Manitoba’s 196 municipalities have a population of fewer than 1,000 — the threshold for a local government under provincial law.

Opposition Progressive Conservative critic Blaine Pedersen said that under the government’s plan the actual mergers will have to take place quickly to prepare the voters list by May. The Tories have argued for amalgamations to be postponed for the next municipal elections in 2018, giving officials time to work out the kinks.

"It’s just too tight a time-line," Pedersen said. "What it’s doing is throwing the new council, whoever that ends up being, in a very awkward position because they’re going to have to pick up the pieces and try to make everything work."

The province has pushed amalgamation to reduce the cost of local government and take advantage of upcoming infrastructure money under Ottawa’s new Building Canada Fund. The province also said it expects the expedited merger process will see more municipal amalgamations in one year than in all the province’s history.

The road to amalgamation under Bill 33 has not been smooth. Because of backlash from two Lake Winnipeg summer-resort communities, which enjoy a healthy cottage tax base despite a low population of permanent residents, the government had to amend its legislation. Victoria Beach and Dunnottar were granted exemptions. The two communities, plus Winnipeg Beach, will continue to hold summer elections instead of in the fall.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 1:48 PM CST:
Adds audio files.

Updated on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 2:52 PM CST:
Court documents added.

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Democracy is what the Manitoba NDP say it is, anyone outside of Winnipeg has no say in the process. Just fall in line rural Manitoba and do what Struthers dictates. After all, he brought us the PST increase and we are all happy with that, WHAT'S NEXT?

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