Regarding the contentious issue of forced municipal amalgamation, various provincial government spokesmen have put forward quite a number of arguments in support of their initiative that simply do not stand up to scrutiny.
For example, it is said that small municipalities do not have the wherewithal to afford to have their audits done and are therefore ineligible for their per capita share of federal gas tax funding. The reality is that while most municipalities do have their audits up to date, those that do not run the gamut from some of the smallest to some of the largest. This is not, in short, a size-related issue.
We continually hear that municipalities having less than 1,000 residents do not meet the legal threshold, under the Municipal Act, of a municipality. Actually the 1,000 resident minimum is the requirement to form a new municipality. There is no minimum population requirement in the act for existing municipalities. The province is apparently considering unspecified changes to the act, one of which presumably would be to change the wording and intent to belatedly give truth to this, their constant misstatement.
We are told that small municipalities need to amalgamate to meet the requirements of municipal planning and emergency preparedness. In point of fact, these requirements have already been met by the usual process whereby small municipalities act jointly, by way of regional partnerships.
The provincial government is fully aware that regional partnerships have long been the operating norm for small municipalities for entities from weed control districts to libraries, from conservation districts to fire mutual aid districts, to name but a few. As each of these associations is with a different specific group of municipalities, almost any amalgamation would tear some of these associations apart and force members to forge new ones.
But most importantly, the finance minister has been making the case that the province is being forced to act in order to create huge tax savings for municipal ratepayers. However, it has been definitively established, not only by respected academic studies but also by first-hand amalgamation experience both inside and outside Manitoba’s borders, that there are virtually no cost savings attributable to amalgamation. In fact, there are considerable costs. Any potential savings from shared offices and administrations have always been available without amalgamation.
We have too much respect for the intelligence of our government representatives to imagine that they could honestly believe in the validity of these arguments. There have to be real reasons for this agenda. Putting forward so many of these blatantly false arguments while withholding the real reasons only raises the level of speculation and suspicion as to the government’s motives.
The province’s timeline for amalgamation is impossible to achieve. Numerous municipal governments have responded in writing to the premier, the minister of local government, and other cabinet ministers and MLAs. These responses have generally fallen into two categories: carefully reasoned arguments as to why these municipalities would be very reluctant to be forced to amalgamate and those more bluntly stating that they, for similar reasons, simply refuse to do so. To date, we are not aware of any municipality that has been favoured with a reply. The very existence of these letters is denied.
Government spokesmen are only too happy to go over councils’ heads to the media while refusing to talk to the municipalities themselves. The impression is created that this initiative has been well received by councils. It hasn’t. Municipalities that have, for their own reasons, previously amalgamated or who are now considering doing so, still oppose this unilateral action. Those to whom this initiative does not apply overwhelmingly condemn forced amalgamation of unwilling participants.
In summary, it would be very hard to overestimate the groundswell of outright hostility that this unfortunate and undemocratic campaign has aroused.
The Council of the
Rural Municipality of Cameron
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 12, 2013