The Selinger government is pitting municipalities against each other in its latest bid to force shotgun wedding-style amalgamations in the province.
At least 32 municipalities recently received what amounts to an "or else" letter from Minister of Municipal Government Stan Struthers, according to Progressive Conservative critic for Local Government Blaine Pedersen.
"The letters tell municipalities what they are going to do unless they come up with a better plan, and that plan is pretty narrow in scope," Pedersen said.
In the letters, Struthers draws his own boundaries, partnering municipalities and developing a "basic plan" for amalgamation.
One plan would have six municipalities — Rapid City, and the RMs of Park, Blanshard, Saskatchewan, Harrison and Strathclair — merge into a single municipality.
The merger would create a municipality with a population of 4,056, well above the 1,000 threshold the provincial government outlined in the Municipal Modernization Act.
"It was a disappointing letter," RM of Park Reeve Craig Atkinson said. "We’ve written the provincial government several letters and never heard a response back from any of them. And now we get a letter from them telling us what to do next."
Atkinson argues they should be exempt from the mergers because of the RM’s proximity to Riding Mountain National Park, which adds workload to each councillor’s portfolio.
The RM has seven agreements with RMNP, something that could be jeopardized in the merger.
"We’re going to do it our way because if we don’t, we are all going to lose our identities," Atkinson said.
He points to communities such as Dunnottar (696) and Victoria Beach (375), both located on Lake Winnipeg, as other examples of special circumstances that warranted exemptions from the new act.
"We’re still fighting for our right not to be forced to amalgamate," he said.
Another plan merges four municipalities — the towns of Grandview and Gilbert Plains, and the RMs of Grandview and Gilbert Plains.
"We’re not very happy with it," Town of Grandview Mayor Tom Bohun said.
Bohun said his council has been working with the RM of Grandview, which they already share several services with including a building, toward amalgamation.
The new plan is designed to put pressure on the two Gilbert Plains municipalities, which haven’t seen eye-to-eye on a potential merger.
In the merger, council and administration would be situated in Grandview, meaning the Town and RM of Gilbert Plains would be the losers in the deal.
The letter states: "The plan will allow the newly elected council to make any decisions required about how the new municipality will be governed and function."
Councillors will be elected at large, meaning one community could stack the 2014 election and dictate what the partnership would look like moving forward.
Bohun said it has been a long, slow process to merge the two Grandviews. He has no intention of further merging with two more municipalities, bringing with it a mess of different mill rates, taxes and creating an area too vast to govern effectively.
"We’re going to stick to our guns and send in our plan which has the two Grandviews amalgamating," Bohun said. "If you don’t like it, lump it."
Most confounding of the letters from Struthers, however, is one addressed to the RMs of Albert and Edward that would force the two southwestern municipalities to partner.
The two municipalities combined — Albert (323) and Edward (574) would still be below the 1,000 population that the act is built on.
Other mergers, such as the town and RM of Ethelbert, don’t reach the threshold either.
There was no response from the Department of Municipal Government by press time.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 7, 2013