UPDATED: Province pulls out of Pictou County governance study

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After meetings with the six municipal units in Pictou County, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey announced yesterday that the province will not be contributing to the study on a regional governance model.

Minister Mark Furey, left, met with Westville and the five other Pictou County municipalities on Mar. 11. He is pictured here with Westville Mayor Roger MacKay. Furey announced yesterday that the province will not be contributing to the study on a regional governance model.

PICTOU – The province’s decision to pull its funding from a local governance study has left local municipal leaders wondering what to do next.

Nova Scotia Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey said Tuesday evening that after meeting with the six municipal units in Pictou County, it was clear a consensus could not be reached within the six units to move the study forward.  

"Let's invest our tax dollars and resources on advancing governance change with the municipal units that may be interested in it," said Furey.

A governance study for the county has been a hot topic of conversation for some time now. Last March, all of the local municipal units agreed to put in their $25,000 share for the study.

The province, under the previous NDP government, had originally agreed to give the municipalities $100,000 to put toward the study, but the councils were concerned the criteria proposed by the province wouldn't cover the areas that needed to be studied.

The municipalities counter-offered with new guidelines and a request for more funding in order to complete it. The province answered their request by stating it would pay 50 per cent of the cost of the study, up to $150,000. If the study's cost came in less than $300,000, any unused money woul be returned to the province.

However, there were more delays in getting the study off the ground when all parties involved had trouble agreeing on the terms of reference of the study and what should be covered with the money available.

Westville Mayor Roger MacKay said he is “disappointed, but not surprised” by the government’s decision.

“Minister Furey met with all councils on March 11 and it was clear to him there that some people were not ready to move forward,” he said. “I guess I look at it, if the minister sees the will isn’t there, why waste taxpayers’ money?”

MacKay said in his own opinion, he feels the study is “dead in the water,” but he is sure the municipalities will have further discussions on this in the near future.

“It’s frustrating because we are more than two years into this,” he said.  

MacKay said the municipalities can continue to work together with or without a governance study.

“We tried and we as town can move forward the best we can,” he said.

Pictou Mayor Joe Hawes and Stellarton Mayor Joe Gennoe both said they were also disappointed by the province’s decision while Municipality of Pictou County Deputy Warden Andy Thompson said the county was always in favour of getting the study done because it would set some guidelines for further discussions.

“There is a lot of talk around the county about a governance study, but no one understands what it will look like,” he said. “It’s not as simple as cutting the number of councillors. That is simple solution to a complex problem.”

He said the governance study would have gone deeper and looked at infrastructure in the entire county and issues it could be dealing with in 15 years or more.

“It’s about getting the right facts out there and people can make up their right mind,” he said. “It’s not about counting chairs.”

Pictou County Chamber of Commerce executive director Jack Kyte said in light of the province’s decision, the chamber has reached out to the municipal units in hopes of keeping them talking about better governance.

“It’s very frustrating to the chamber membership,” he said. “It felt it was important to have a united community here. If you look at the situation in Queen’s County, the tax rate has dropped in Liverpool. There are real savings in consolidating municipalities.”

Kyte said he understands why Furey made his decision, but the governance study was an opportunity for change that is needed in this county.

He said in light of a recent announcement by Michelin, and the release of the Ivany report that calls for bold changes by local leaders, municipalities should be embracing this study and the good that could come from it.  

Kyte said leaders need to look at the county from beyond its own boards and decide if they want to create an image that will attract business and allow others to see Pictou County as a great place to work.

“When a minister says a study is a waste of time and money, that is not good,” he said. “We had an opportunity to change the way we do things and our behaviour.”

He said he isn’t sure if the study can be “salvaged” at this point, but the chamber is willing to try.

“The chamber very much wants something to be done,” he said. “Governance study would have given us ideas on how to move forward, but we can’t even do that.”

Pictou County’s three MLAs say it is time the Liberal government gave local municipal leaders some direction on how to proceed to the next step.

“The biggest concern is that there is no study and no plan in place,” said Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane. “Pictou County resident can’t move forward and there is nothing from the Liberal government on how to move forward. Families can’t afford to do nothing.”

Pictou East MLA Tim Houston said the Tory government has stated in the past that this province is over-governed, but each area of Nova Scotia must be looked at for its differences. He said a governance study would be the first step in pointing out the county’s strengths and weaknesses, but instead the minister has thrown up his hands and has told the municipal units to come up with their own solutions.

“The job of the government is to listen to the communities and to understand their concerns,” he said. “It needs to try to find direction and provide leadership. It is a lack of leadership to walk away and say that you are on your own.”

Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn said he would like to see the provincial government soon approach the six municipal units in the county with its own plan that will help them get back on track to good governance.

“The first step is for the Liberal government to step forward, go back to the table and forge ahead,” he said.

All three MLAs said they would continue to press the Liberal government as to what its next step will be on the issue and where the municipal units should go from here.

MacFarlane said it is also time to take the issue to the people and ask them what they want to see from their government leaders.

“Maybe it’s time to focus on the constituents and a meeting so they can voice their concerns,” she said. “At least they will feel they are part of it and what the result might be.”

 

 

Organizations: Pictou Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: Pictou County, Springhill, Cumberland

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Recent comments

  • paul veniot
    March 27, 2014 - 08:26

    It is well past the time that our political leaders at all levels of government put aside their partisan issues and make decisions that are in the best interests of those they were elected to represent. Given the levels of debt and taxation we "enjoy" in Nova Scotia we have to move forward with decision makers that will move us forward before we drown in our financial sinkhole.

  • Lynn MacDonald
    March 27, 2014 - 08:10

    Although I am a member of council in Westville these comments are mine alone and do not speak for or represent council in this matter. First of all - thank you to the Minister for returning to P.Co. to deliver this message. He did due diligence - met with all councils prior to this decision and drew his own conclusions on the issue. I have always said that some units did not want the study although in public they put forward funds to pay for part. Initially the study was going to cost in the range of 100K to 150K - then it was 'loaded up' with requests for more information that the study should never have covered - like infrastructure, etc. And please do not blame the CAO's for this - they do their work as directed by Councils. How embarassing for the County to have a Provincial Minister come here and point out that a "Governance" study should be about that - not all the other things that were thrown into the one suggested - things that drove the cost up, up, up. I do not like to waste money, so why spend money on a study if all units are not ready to move forward with change. For me it comes down to the same old thing - the few trying to control the many. Already we have two units in the county who do not want to join the REN for our area - this Regional Economic Network is to have the strength together to bring enhance the economy in our area - something we need badly. P.Co. is part of REN 5 and our Councilor, Lennie White, Westville's rep for the REN has called repeatedly for the P.CO. group to get together and get started on the work - all to no avail. Now it seems that two units are working together to hire an Economic Development officer of their own as well as looking at another REN area - working together???? Not all of Pictou County. A governance study should look at - the way we are governed - to me that means councils - how many we have - how many reps each unit needs - from that information would come the work in administration, engineering, recreation - all the core operations for each unit - in the end there may be no changes to our municipal departments - only councils and administrative units . "Our strength is in our unity" - we need to put some facts and actions to that statement - I have some concerns for Westville if it became a part of a larger group - and if we move forward with 'governance' there will be time to discuss those issues. Right now I think we need to see who is serious about change and how we make any changes deemed to be necessary.

  • One Guy, One Voice
    March 27, 2014 - 06:17

    I for one, am glad we won't be doin a Governance (Amalgamation) Study. We don't need to, shouldn't be and hopefully will never be Amalgamatin!! What we need is for our Provincial Government to be working closer with our Federal Government to look after the needs of the people of this province with the people of this county in mind. Amalgamation will serve only the town of New Glasgow and take some stress of the MP's to fight for us. The idea of Amalgamation is Defeatist at it's best!!

  • alex
    March 26, 2014 - 19:41

    well, my opinion is that you all had more than enough time to get this done but years of doing nothing means you lost your chance, its taxpayers who I feel sorry for, as the politicians did nothing (and collected paycheques) - and as businesses fade away, and we know more there are more on the way to closure , taxpayers will have to pay more and more -mr mac neil- implement amalgamation, or just get rid of all municipal governments and get on with economic recovery...

  • Raymond roach jr.
    March 26, 2014 - 18:33

    Let's face it your polical parties are trying to use your tax dollars to have a private entreprise perform a 300k audit of possible out comes on the tax payers heads of out of county residence that could use there money to better there own areas and pictou county residence are upset that the govnourment decided that because the useless majors of your county's towns and consulors haven't done there job yet satisfying that there is a real commitment to spend other tax payers money on your community and that this consuls haven't done any leg work of there to prove there towns are of there best interests in mind? I agree I'm from there and I lived all around I've seen reports from consuls from everywhere and pictou county's are the most poorly produced documents in all NATO countries, why would you take money from thriving areas to boost an area that thrives of have ass jobs! The trades work are pour and improper and the good people leave that's what they want. Make it all new glasgow and pictou leave it and changes will come and let the Nova Scotia federal government run it for a few years to set real presidence and you'll see how poorly the products from your area truely are, it's reality people move before your ghost town crashes because you got 2 years and that's max

  • Jim
    March 26, 2014 - 17:45

    I agree we are too small to need 5 councils but one only has to look at CBRM to realize that amalgamation is not a guarantee of financial security, lower taxes or good government.

  • Time to move
    March 26, 2014 - 15:24

    Time to attempt to sell house and commute from Truro. I'd rather spend money on gas than NG property taxes. Outrageous rates.

  • Al Farthing
    March 26, 2014 - 14:57

    Well !! Hard to know what to think or say about this fiasco. Sort of appears that local community sentiment in the different Councils , and in the people of the Towns and areas is badly split. This does not bode well for future development. A study would presumably have revealed and made public the various positions of both leaders and members of the general population. So it looks like we will bumble and fumble our way along until the smaller governments run out of cash as in Canso and Springhill, and like whipped ponies settle for whatever morsels they can get. Al Farthing

  • Jim bob
    March 26, 2014 - 13:47

    This has to be what some of our elected municipal officials wanted. Talk about self serving! So we wait and watch our taxes go up and up so we in Pictou County can continue to have duplicate services in each of our municipal units. We have a huge out migration problem...we have the highest unemployment rate in Nova Scotia...there are probably more Pictou County people working away than there are working here in Pictou County. It's time for some strong leadership here in Pictou County.

  • Stellarton Resident
    March 26, 2014 - 13:42

    Our local political structure is outdated, and burying us. If these local politicians do not give their head a shake, they will all be villages. Ask Springhill. We need cooperation. Every business is trimming and focusing, our small town political system is a joke. Please Mr. McNeil step in here adn force amalgamation, we need some due diligence done with out tax dollars. Our local politicians need to remove their heads from the sand or where ever and do what's right, no what they feel will keep them in office. We elect to have them make the right decisions, we are long over due get with the times....grow up Pictou County....

  • Another Stellarton Resident
    March 26, 2014 - 12:54

    I don't know about the rest of PC but there is a strong possibility that if a committee was struck in Stellarton to investigate amalgamation that #1 They might not remember what had occurred at their meetings and #2 They probably wouldn't bring whatever occurred back to the remainder of the elected officials.

  • Shane MacMillan
    March 26, 2014 - 11:25

    Very disappointed in our councils. Sad and frustrating news for anyone who wants to move back to PC some day.

  • Glenn MacLeod
    March 26, 2014 - 11:14

    I am so disappointed with our Provincial Political Parties. They are more concerned about the ballot box then strong leadership. I think if a Provincial Election was called today I wouldn't vote. What's the point! Strong Leadership and winning elections are two different issues.

  • Shane MacMillan
    March 26, 2014 - 11:13

    Very disappointed in our councils. Sad and frustrating news for anyone who wants to move back to PC some day. Could we please show the rest of the province that we are responsible adults who can solve our own problems?

  • Diane Hayman
    March 26, 2014 - 10:33

    I am disappointed that councils in the county cannot get together. As much as I am not a proponent of provincial government taking over, I think the time has come for them to take charge. Just as in a classroom or family when people cannot agree and a decision has to be made for the betterment of all, you have to have someone in charge that makes a decision whether all like it or not. We are all part of Pictou County whether in a town or a rural area.i don't say just that I come from Westville. I live in Westville, in Pictou County. A great part of this province. Some areas have benefitted more financially than others. That happens in families too, but usually family members help each other. Not in this family I am afraid. I really worry what lies ahead for all of us as we continue to go off in our separate ways.

  • Bobby
    March 26, 2014 - 09:12

    Wow. "Let's invest our tax dollars and resources on advancing governance change with the municipal units that may be interested in it," said Furey. That says it all right there. Missed opportunity for Pictou County to move forward.

  • Stellarton Resident
    March 26, 2014 - 09:06

    Here we go again! At some point the government has to mandate some type of merger, as these municipal units are never going to agree 100% on everything!!! At least a study would have pointed out some possible options, now we don't even have that!!! Dissapointing.