What started as a bit of tongue-in-cheek protesting by a member of the RM of Glenwood quickly gained support and undoubtedly caused a few more grey hairs for government officials in Manitoba.
Recently, RM of Glenwood Coun. Walter Finlay stated he and others within his rural municipality were poised to secede from Manitoba and join the province of Saskatchewan if their demands of the province were not met. This was a somewhat colourful kick at the NDP government for its planned amalgamation of municipalities. As well, another amped up level of frustration shown from municipal leaders trying to maintain a way of life in rural Manitoba while government makes an attempt to tighten the belt and rein in costs through their perception of the amalgamation move.
The intention of this government was to increase service capacity in these municipalities through amalgamation but quickly it has spiralled out of control to become a much bigger systemic issue for Manitobans. It has created a greater urban rural divide and will cause for increased disdain for a government Manitobans feel isn’t listening to its residents.
The idea of municipal amalgamation has been argued, debated and pushed through for some time now, and the level of frustration by members of those municipalities has grown at an alarming rate alongside with the debate. The methods and the process of pitching this to the municipalities were wrong and the heavy handed tactics of some ministers caused the push for a much bigger discussion needing to take place. This included the need for more time as requested by Doug Dobrowolski of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, which was refused. This has left many disillusioned by this government.
I’m certain the legal obligations and ability for secession to actually take place is next to impossible. Furthermore, the thought of it ever getting to a point where it was considered is proof that more representation of the rural needs in the legislature is necessary. I’m sure this was the thought of RM of Glenwood councillors when tossing out the idea and is meant to be an opportunity to further force the hand of government in bringing them to the table.
Realistically, Manitobans should be in the national news for positive happenings like the Canada Games announcement, growth and expansion of cancer treatment centres, medical advances and resource management all happening in this province and all tremendously positive.
Sadly though, we have made the news for flood mitigation issues, people forced out of their homes due to water management concerns, tax increases, ballooning deficits and sparring within the province over changes to the rural way of life.
The opportunity exists for this government to cut its losses at a provincial level and acquiesce to the municipalities. The cost savings has been argued to be minimal and the ability to appease a portion of the population by reopening dialogue would be beneficial for a government knee deep in water and upset residents.
The reality is there are some tremendous positives happening in this province, but they are being overshadowed by groups that feel like their voice is not being heard and a government that has seriously misread the temperature of the resident over decisions like tax increases, lack of larger deficit paydowns and this among others.
As a footnote to this column, when contacted, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall quipped that the municipality would have to change allegiances for football teams which was a humorous way for Wall to get out of a sticky situation with his neighbour to the east. Problem being is Wall, or Manitobans for that matter, should not have made it to that point in the first place as this became a national news story for the wrong reasons. It didn’t have to be that way — the discussion on municipal amalgamation needs more time and more input as requested, and if it still moves forward, needs an opportunity at the end for westerners of this province to feel included in decisions that affect them.
With the collection of situations our government finds itself in, rethinking of this initiative should be in order for the health of this province. If not, the solution may be worse than the perceived problem, with a continuing threat of Manitobans ending up mired in some old-fashioned civil unrest along borders as an outcome.
Even though if change does happen it appears the long-term effects will be minimal as realistically few outside of Winnipeg truly fear that the West will rise again.