UPDATED: Province pulls out of Pictou County governance study

Published on March 26, 2014
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.
FILE PHOTO

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.

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.”