Perhaps it’s just too soon. Or maybe we’re a little thin-skinned. On the other hand, possibly there’s a lesson to be learned here.
Pictou East MLA Tim Houston took a fellow member of the legislature to task recently for a presentation that appeared to be making light of Pictou County’s tussle over the amalgamation question nearly two years ago.
The complaint involved a presentation made in January by the provincial government on the topic of municipal modernization. A slide illustration included a number of images, with one featuring a 2016 editorial cartoon from The Chronicle Herald. With castles to represent Pictou County’s municipalities, each surrounded by a moat, a text bubble over New Glasgow’s castle reads: “We’re considering a limited free-trade agreement with Stellarton.”
Houston, who is also running for leadership of the Progressive Conservatives, called it a thinly veiled insult directed at Pictou County, one suggesting the area is backwards and part of the problem in any push toward modernizing municipal governance. He asked Minister of Municipal Affairs Derek Mombourquette to apologize for the slight.
Houston wasn’t the only one offended. And, likely, where one stood on this particular issue might have a bearing on his or her perception of the relative offence, humour, appropriateness or inappropriateness of the illustration.
Taken on its own, the cartoon is like most editorial cartoons. It’ll tickle the ribs of some, it’ll tweak the nose of others.
In the context of a current-day presentation from the provincial government, admittedly, it does take on a new life.
The miffed reaction certainly reflects the level of angst felt among many of Pictou County’s residents in the time leading up to that plebiscite, which saw a healthy majority vote against the prospect of amalgamating.
The presentation by the department appeared to be hitting on some key points: the historical context for setting municipal boundaries, and going on to suggest that those divisions can encourage competition, rather than collaboration. The overall thrust of the PowerPoint presentation was about municipal modernization.
In addition to the apparent slight aimed at Pictou County, Houston in his remarks in the legislature made reference to the Liberal government’s fondness for centralizing things: a provincial health authority rather than regional ones, for example, then a move to do away with school boards in favour of a provincial body. And now, are municipalities on the radar?
Provincial governments in the past have pushed amalgamation in some instances, then backed off when the response was less than positive. The abiding philosophy in more recent years has been no shotgun weddings, but the province will be open to any municipalities looking to come together.
Laugh or cry as you wish over the castle cartoon and it’s take on Pictou County, but it appears this prospect of somehow transforming municipal government is still alive for the provincial government.
The plebiscite results for most people in Pictou County indicated that the issue is over, once and for all. But who’s to say what’s coming down the pipes?