New requirements for P.E.I. municipalities now in effect

P.E.I.’s new Municipal Government Act is now in effect. A number of significant changes to the way municipalities operate will be phased in over the next five years. Some communities are concerned about the increased financial burden that will come with providing the extra services the act requires.

Some communities concerned about added financial burden

All Island municipalities, including the City of Summerside, now fall under the province's Municipal Government Act. (CBC News)

P.E.I.'s new Municipal Government Act is now in effect.

The act replaces a patchwork of legislation governing the affairs of Island municipalities introduced in the 1980s. Work on updating those laws began in 2004.

"We really haven't made any substantial changes since the Municipalities Act was brought in in 1983," said Samantha Murphy, manager of municipal affairs for the province.

"The expectations of what a municipality does has changed over the years, and we needed to bring our procedures up to date."

Changes under the new act are being phased in. Some of the new requirements for all municipalities which kicked in as of Saturday, Dec. 23:

  • Councils must follow new conflict-of-interest standards.
  • Municipalities with more than $50,000 in annual expenditures must appoint an auditor to produce yearly audited financial statements.
  • Within 12 months, all municipalities must enact bylaws on freedom of information and protection of privacy, and codes of conduct for councils and municipal staff.
  • Within three years all municipalities must have an approved emergency management plan in place. Within five years, they must have land-use bylaws in place.

Election requirements to add costs for small communities

Municipalities will also be required to hold their own full-day elections in the fall of 2018. In the past, some smaller municipalities have held meetings as short as five minutes to elect a new council, where candidates were declared from the floor and residents voted with a show of hands.

P.E.I.'s manager of municipal affairs Samantha Murphy says the new requirements of the Municipal Government Act may create additional pressure for municipalities to amalgamate, but says that wasn't one of the objectives in developing the legislation. (Federico Cahis/CBC News)

Audrey Callaghan is the chair of Miminegash council.

She said holding a full-day election for the community's 148 residents will create an unnecessary expense. She's also worried that the requirement to have a community office staffed for a minimum of 20 hours a week, which kicks in after five years, would require council to increase taxes.

"Well we don't think first of all we have enough work, and we don't think we can afford it," Callaghan said. "I don't know where we'd get the money to pay for that."

"We live in a mostly senior community.  And there's a lot of seniors having a hard struggle now to make ends meet. Put more taxes on them? Another burden."

Communities face pressure to grow, absorb added costs

Communities Minister Robert Mitchell has suggested municipalities might be able to partner on the office and staff requirements. However, the current legislation requires each municipality operate its own office within its own borders.

Government is trying to encourage communities to amalgamate to make them larger and more financially sustainable.

"We've held meetings, several meetings," on amalgamation, Callaghan said. "And we know that they don't want to join in with us. Some don't want to join in with maybe St. Louis. We'll say St. Felix doesn't want to go to Tignish.

"If communities don't want to join up with you, how are you going to solve that problem?"

Local residents at a meeting to discuss the Three Rivers amalgamation proposal in Montague. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Murphy said the new requirements could create pressure for existing municipalities to grow, "but it wasn't one of the objectives.  

"When we were drafting the legislation, the question we kept coming back to is 'What is a municipality? What is a municipality expected to provide to its residents?'"

There are currently more than 70 municipalities in P.E.I., some with populations of less than 100 people. A number of reports over the years have recommended the province move toward having fewer, larger municipalities.