The decision by the Town of Springhill to dissolve and join Cumberland County has set off discussion about the prospects for other small municipalities in the province. What a timely topic for Pictou County with proposals for a governance study having been batted around for a couple of years.
While smaller towns have never taken kindly to the thought of shotgun marriage with their bigger counterparts, the conversation is drifting that way.
Reflecting on Springhill, Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the province should push such changes, since the municipalities aren’t dealing with the matter. He added that the province is over-governed, at a time when local economies are struggling and taxes are too high.
Ray Ivany, who led the recent panel on Nova Scotia’s economic future, added that similar decisions are inevitable because of shrinking populations and economic decline.
As people grapple with thoughts of amalgamation, it might be beneficial to consider some style of regional government. A municipal council represents the entire county and deals with broader infrastructure and services. It would also be the unified voice to represent the area as a whole when business interests come calling.
Pictou County’s municipalities might well claim there is no competition at play in attracting business to the area, but that’s not the public’s perception. We can only guess what would be the perception of a company grappling with our local politics.
A small, local committee could focus on everyday issues in a town, like sidewalks, streetlights or neighbourhood concerns.
Nova Scotia already has a model that roughly follows such a pattern in its village commissions, which have a certain set of tasks while the overall municipality tackles bigger business.
A number of provisos would be crucial in this. Absolutely no extra layer of bureaucracy – no matter how small – would be acceptable. Duplication needs to be eliminated, along with the certainty that it wouldn’t increase public costs.