With her census data complete, Gladstone Mayor Eileen Clarke hopes that at the end of this process she has more than a worn-out pair of running shoes to show for her trouble.
Clarke went door-to-door in Gladstone to prove the community has a population of more than 1,000 residents.
The community is trying to shuck recent legislation that forces any municipality under the 1,000 population threshold to merge with another municipality.
When it was all said and done, there were only six homes, due to holidays or shift work, where Clarke was unable to speak with anyone to get an accurate count.
Still, after pounding the pavement, Clarke’s number was 1,015.
“I have a lifetime of commitment to this community and this is very personal,” Clarke said. “I’m really disappointed in the province. Our council represents our people and we have to do what’s in their best interests.”
Bill 33, the Municipal Modernization Act, requires small municipalities to amalgamate if they are under the threshold as reported by the 2011 census data.
The census pinned Gladstone with a population of 879.
In a letter addressed to Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux, Clarke said, “(Council) contacted the Chief Statistician for the province earlier this year and were told that only 52 per cent of Gladstone residents had actually filled in and returned their 2011 census.”
“So how did they derive that number?” she asked.
The addition of a second shift at HyLife Foods in Neepawa has resulted in a zero vacancy rate in residential homes in Gladstone.
The school is filling up and Clarke said there are more family members of workers at the hog slaughtering facility on their way.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything better, but why (is the government trying) to curtail it when we are growing?” Clarke asked, adding that many of the workers’ extended family have found work in hospitals as support staff.
“You can just look around the community and see what the results are.”
Council passed a resolution indicating it does not want to amalgamate with any other municipalities, believing “it would deter the positive rediential and commercial growth that they’ve been experiencing since 2008.”
“We’re asking the province to consider viability and substantiality and not just that single number of 1,000,” Clarke said.
To date, only the resort communities of Victoria Beach (374 residents) and Dunnottar (696), both located on Lake Winnipeg, have been excluded from the amalgamation legislation.
Clarke said the government has been disingenuous from the start of the process, only pretending to listen to the concerns of municipalities during a round of talks as a formality before pushing through the legislation.
“Why go through the exercise if you have no intention of listening,” Clarke said.
“We’ve worked hard and put it a lot of time and effort to make sure the community grew. Now it’s like the government is telling us ‘Good for you, you’re done.’ It’s like there is no respect.”
Provincial spokesperson Natalie Rampersad said the census is the only official number in the Municipal Modernization Act.
“The new act requires municipalities to plan for amalgamation and we are expecting municipalities to comply with the act,” she said, adding there is flexibility to consider local circumstances.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 21, 2013