To: Premier Greg Selinger, Hon. Ron Lemieux and Hon. Stan Struthers
Re: Municipal Amalgamation Agenda
The Council of the Rural Municipality of Edward would like to take this opportunity to convey our views regarding the municipal amalgamation agenda that the province has ‘mandated.’ We would also like to respond to the strong statements made by the province and particularly Minister Lemieux.
The RM of Edward is a 576-square-mile municipality, incorporated in 1905, that borders Saskatchewan and the U.S. and includes the Town of Pierson, a local urban district, and the Town of Lyleton. Since inception, we have endeavoured to provide the services and programs to our residents in the most cost-effective way possible. That has meant embracing change and finding innovative ways to provide the services and amenities to ensure that our citizens have happy, well-rounded lives.
We have agreements/partnerships with our neighbours to provide varied services including a weed board, regional library, conservation district, recreation district, arts council, planning district and building inspector, Mutual Aid, Oil Producing Municipalities of Manitoba, senior services and housing … The list goes on and on. We work with our neighbours to lobby together and create a strong voice in, and from, southwest Manitoba. We even share administrative costs associated with elections and the various notice requirements under the Municipal Act.
We like our neighbours and work together well, but that certainly does not mean we want them to move into our house or share our bank account. We are together but separate, which enables us all to maintain our identities and have services that are available to all of our citizens, even the less fortunate and those that are unable to travel.
We have had discussions with municipalities that have recently amalgamated and they tell us that there is no realizable cost savings resulting from the process. The time it has taken them to complete the amalgamation process has been much longer than 11 months and in some cases is still ongoing. The time frame the province has provided for this historical change in government is very unreasonable and haste in planning and decision-making will surely cause problems in the future; problems that will take time away from important issues at hand, which in turn will result in the ineffective use of resources.
The RM of Edward has been PSAB compliant since 2009; we have completed our 2011 audits and have received our gas tax funding for the year. Our councillors cost very little and most of the work they do is provided on a volunteer basis. We take exception to the bold statements made by the province that say that small municipalities are “clearly dysfunctional.” The biggest problem we face is the deficit in infrastructure, which is certainly not unique to any municipality of any size.
Amalgamating with our neighbours will not save any money in this area considering that the burdens will grow with the joining of another area, and we will not receive any more, relative to size, based on the current per capita funding formulas. Our assessment base has grown $7 million in just the past year and promises to continue to grow.
We challenge the legality of some statements that have been made by the province. Over and over, we hear how municipalities with a population of less than 1,000 are not recognized under the Act. It is our understanding of the Municipal Act that while the requirement to form a new municipality is 1,000 residents (except, ironically, by amalgamation), municipalities of any size are still recognized under the Act as legal entities.
In an interview on CBC’s “Radio Noon,” Minister Lemieux said that amalgamation is only the first step … The first step in what? What does this government have planned next? If regionalization is only the beginning, what is the end game? Will residents in rural areas be forced to move to larger centres in order to access services that they are entitled to, as taxpayers and as Canadian citizens? Where is the transparency? Where is the democracy?
For a province that is carrying a purported $27-billion deficit, is this the best possible use of its resources at this time? We are being told to shake up our structure and our communities to save pennies on administrative costs; where is the leadership demonstrating the example? Is “do as I say, not as I do” the new definition of democracy in Manitoba?
Minister Lemieux said that municipal officials and administrators are asking questions. He says that he does not understand why. Perhaps it is just a matter of listening to the questions that are being asked.
Reeve, RM of Edward