Nfld. & Labrador

Wabush shuts down amalgamation talks, mayor says 'there's no interest'

"This has been ongoing now for two councils now ... We got dragged into this," says Mayor Ron Barron.

'There's no interest in this,' says Wabush mayor

Wabush Mayor Ron Barron says amalgamation is a dead issue, after public meetings showed a lack of interest by his residents. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

One day after Labrador City Mayor Wayne Button stepped down from his post, his counterpart in Wabush has killed a motion to join the two communities.

Mayor Ron Barron had voiced his opposition to amalgamation from the start of his term in 2017, while Button led the push to bring them together.

The Wabush town council tabled a motion Thursday night on whether or not to proceed with a plebiscite. It was defeated.

"Listen, there's no interest in this," Barron told Labrador Morning on Friday. "This has been ongoing now for two councils now. Over three-plus years, four years. We got dragged into this."

The town didn't go looking for an amalgamation. They went looking for help.- Ron Barron

Barron said the idea of amalgamation came up when Wabush needed money to keep the Mike Adam Recreation Centre open. The former town council "went over there begging to Lab City," Barron said, and the help came with a condition.

Wabush had to agree to an amalgamation study, Barron said.

"The town didn't go looking for an amalgamation. They went looking for help," he said.

In 2017, former Wabush Mayor Colin Vardy and former Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford hugged for the camera after the towns moved to fund an amalgamation study. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

When the feasibility study was first agreed upon, then-mayors of both towns were pictured hugging each other in council chambers. After municipal elections brought new leaders for Labrador City and Wabush, it didn't take long for that relationship to chill.

Barron was opposed to the report, completed by Stantec, which didn't find enough savings for his liking, and avoided layoffs.

 "It was not worth the paper it was wrote on," Barron said. "I think it was dressed up to sell to the residents of Labrador West."

The two towns held a pair of public meetings in March, where only 51 residents of Wabush showed up to vote on whether or not they would support amalgamation. Of those 51, only 42 voted on whether or not they'd like to see an official plebiscite. The answer was split down the middle.

"The whole point behind those sessions was to engage the community to see what they wanted. They are not my words. They are the former mayor's words also," Barron said. "So how many times do we have to revisit this? Listen, if you look at the population that came out to the meetings, there's no interest in this."

Barron has been vocal about his support for regionalizing services like recreation without joining the two towns together. They already share waste management services.

Rocky relationship

Two days before he resigned, Button told CBC News residents of Labrador City would vote in the fall on whether or not they wanted to amalgamate.

Barron said that violated an agreement the two men had made, that nobody would vote on anything until both towns had agreed on whether or not to hold a plebiscite.

"This is where this all falls off the rails," Barron said.

The Mike Adam Recreation Complex is located in the Town of Wabush, and the annual cost to operate it has become a source of tension between Wabush and its neighbour, Labrador City. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

When asked about his relationship with Button, and if their disagreements played any role, Barron wouldn't bite.

"I'm not going to get into that this morning," he said. "We're moving forward to work for the betterment of our communities and I hope that we can sit down very shortly and have further discussions on regionalization and put this to bed once and for all."

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