PEI

P.E.I.'s new Municipal Government Act gives minister too much power: Opposition

The Opposition wants government to make changes to the draft Municipal Government Act — complaining during Question Period in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday that it gives the minister in charge of communities too much power.

Opposition questions why minister would need to unilaterally create or dissolve communities

P.E.I.'s new Municipal Government Act give the minister in charge too much power, the Opposition complains. (CBC)

The Opposition wants government to make changes to the draft Municipal Government Act — complaining during Question Period in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday that it gives the minister in charge of communities too much power.

The long-awaited new legislation, at 150 pages, is designed to lay out a framework under which about 73 small municipalities on P.E.I. will amalgamate to form fewer, larger municipalities.

The legislation includes setting minimum sizes for new cities (15,000) and towns (4,000).

"Will you support amendments to the Municipal Government Act removing ministerial powers to unilaterally create, restructure and dissolve municipalities?" MLA Brad Trivers challenged Robert Mitchell, P.E.I.'s minister of communities. 

"I have indicated on numerous occasions to municipal leaders all across P.E.I. that I will assist them with many different supports that are required including templates and discussions," was Mitchell's response.

"If they're looking at restructuring, getting larger or getting bigger or if they think they're not big enough to do the business ... we will help them in any way, shape or form," Mitchell said. 

Opposition concerns

The new legislation gives the minister the power to initiate the proposal for a new municipality or dissolve one, Trivers noted, and asked Mitchell under what circumstances he'd do either.

PC Opposition MLA Brad Trivers peppered Minister of Communities Robert Mitchell with questions about his powers under the new Municipal Government Act. (CBC)

The minister can appoint someone to take over running a municipality if a council resigns or is deadlocked on a conflict, Mitchell responded, noting he'd had "encouraging" consultations with municipalities over "making their communities better places to live."  

Municipalities will eventually be required to offer minimum levels of services such as community planning, emergency planning and even hours of operation for a municipal office — things that are expected to put a squeeze on smaller communities without much tax base.

They may be forced to share resources, amalgamate, or possibly lose their status and become unincorporated.

Trivers also asked Mitchell why unincorporated areas had no voice in the amalgamation discussions. Mitchell pointed to ongoing talks amongst seven eastern P.E.I. communities including Montague and Georgetown, which have also taken in nearby unincorporated areas.

He said government is respecting the communities' wishes to stay out of those discussions. 

Funding formula not included

One of the biggest changes municipalities have been asking for isn't in this act at all — they'd like provincial funding to revert to a system calculated using the size of their tax base. 

Currently, when municipalities grow they don't necessarily receive increased provincial funding. Government is promising new legislation on that in spring.

To read the proposed legislation, visit the Legislative Assembly's website: www.assembly.pe.ca/bills/.

With files from Kerry Campbell

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