By Mark Furey
Building a stronger Nova Scotia demands a unity of purpose.
We will succeed only if we work together in a spirit of trust and co-operation. This was the conclusion of the One Nova Scotia report, released last month by Ray Ivany and his commission on Building Our New Economy.
Nova Scotia's municipalities are not an afterthought in building a stronger Nova Scotia. In partnership with government, business and the academic and non-profit sectors, they will lead the change.
Our towns, regional municipalities and counties are trying to deliver services against a backdrop of increasing costs, shrinking populations and declining tax revenues. Several municipal councils face the unenviable choice between slashing programs and services, or raising taxes.
One town is showing tremendous courage in facing this challenge head on. The Town of Springhill has applied for dissolution after 125 years of history. The Municipality of Cumberland County has responded and agree they are stronger together than apart.
I have asked John Leefe, a respected longtime former mayor and cabinet minister, to work with Springhill and Cumberland County on a smooth transition to one municipality by April 1, 2015. John is uniquely able to lead the change, having served three terms as mayor of the Region of Queens Municipality. It was formed when the Town of Liverpool and Queens County came together in 1996 in a union that has been an undeniable success.
There is a lesson in the Queens experience and what is being undertaken in Cumberland County: elected officials can put aside their personal interests for the good of their communities. As Mr. Leefe said, this is "a selfless and courageous act."
My message to our municipal leaders has been clear and consistent: we will not impose amalgamation on our towns and counties. The people of Nova Scotia expect leadership from the councillors and mayors they have democratically elected. I firmly believe that municipal leaders possess the wisdom to make the right choices and the strength to make tough calls. They need no force or coercion from the provincial government.
After meeting with over 30 municipalities, I believe that in many communities there is a desire to work together to take on the challenge of municipal reform. More could follow the lead of Springhill and Cumberland by taking bold action that will strengthen their communities.
Our government will be there to support them. That is why, effective April 1, we are creating a Department of Municipal Affairs. Its prime purpose is to build relationships with our municipalities based on trust and respect.
Just as Mr. Ivany recommended.
Mark Furey is Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister