Legislation would allow P.E.I. to force communities to amalgamate
Meant to 'streamline' process, says minister, but Opposition says powers would go too far
The decision for communities to amalgamate may no longer be left to municipal authorities under proposed legislative changes.
The move would give the Minister of Land, Communities and Environment the ability to initiate amalgamation in municipalities where local councils might be unwilling.
Minister Robert Mitchell said a bill tabled — but not passed — during the spring sitting of the legislature was meant to "streamline" the amalgamation process currently underway involving seven communities in eastern P.E.I.
"That does involve various pieces of incorporation, annexation and amalgamation so it was going to streamline that process so they can sit at the one table and talk about that," Mitchell said. "Because currently right now there's three different processes for that."
But the legislation would also give Mitchell the ability to move forward with amalgamation, even if one or more of the communities involved decided against it. The Opposition sees the legislation as a possible step toward forced amalgamations.
"My criticism of them up until this legislation was put on the table was, 'Look [government] should be leading the process, facilitating it,'" said Opposition MLA Brad Trivers.
"Now we're seeing, they're not stepping up to facilitate and lead the process, but now they want to control it … and it looks like the new legislation is really putting them in a position where they can really dictate what happens."
Province needs fewer, larger municipalities: report
A government report released in 2010 on land use and local governance recommended the province move from the current number of more than 70 municipalities to fewer, larger municipalities to make them more sustainable.
So far the province has tried to facilitate the process to allow local councils to willingly join together, but there have been few takers.
The legislative amendment would allow the minister to initiate the creation of a new municipality or a change in the boundaries of existing municipalities. Currently, those processes can only be initiated by local residents or the councils that represent them.
Changes likely to be passed in fall
A government spokesperson said the proposed changes will likely be passed during the fall sitting of the legislature, either through the current bill which remains on the order paper, or with the introduction of a new Municipalities Act.
Today the minister did not definitely rule out using the new powers if and when they're established, but emphasized that his approach so far with amalgamation has been to collaborate with communities.
"We're going out on a very organic approach, we're having communities talk to communities, neighbours talk to neighbours," Mitchell said. "It's been going very well. We've had some success in that area, especially with the seven communities. We feel when that comes to fruition, that will be a model for Prince Edward Island."
One of the Montague councillors appointed to a joint committee to negotiate the possible amalgamation of the seven communities said the legislation would give the provincial government too much power.
"I definitely don't think they should be allowed to do it without all the communities consent and working together," said councillor Wayne Spin.
"I don't think the government should have the right to step in and do anything without the residents of all outlying communities having a final say."
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