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Lawyers offer strong and differing opinions on MOU

Unless the leaders of Pictou, New Glasgow and the Muncipality of Pictou County all acquired camels lately, lawyer Charles Facey says he finds it hard to believe that they’re the magi coming to bring the Christ child in the form of regional governance.

Facey, who formerly served as solicitor for the Town of Westville, said he is in favour of regional governance but believes the MOU as presently drafted is draconian and would exclude the voices of other towns.

“It’s ill conceived and ill advised,” he said.

Other lawyers however say he is wrong and that there will be a voice for any who choose to participate in the MOU.

Facey said the steering committee that would manage the MOU is made up of leaders from New Glasgow, the Municipality of Pictou County and Pictou.

“They and only they would have the vote,” he said.

He said it’s unfair to ask the other towns to contribute $25,000 since they won’t have a seat at the table in his opinion.

Craig Clarke, solicitor for the town of Stellarton, expressed a very different opinion, saying that the MOU is perfectly legal. He said he believes amendments can be made to allow Stellarton to have a stronger voice in the steering committee and another source familiar with the situation said that would be the case. Clarke said it’s currently drafted as it is because those three municipalities are the ones that are currently part of the MOU.

One particular part of the MOU that Facey believes contradicts the Municipal Governance Act is the part that says that pre-existing debt would remain the responsibility of the current municipalities to pay. He said the MGA clearly states that when a current municipality ceases to exist, all their debt and assets become part of the municipality they become a part of.

“Towns and municipalities are creatures of the province. They can’t override provincial legislation,” Facey said.

Clarke however remains firm on the legality of the MOU. There is one section of the Municipal Governance Act that will need to be amended though if all of the municipalities don’t sign into the MOU, Clarke said.

That section says that the process of amalgamation requires all the municipalities within a county to agree to it. If even one of the towns opts not to enter the agreement then the province will have to amend the MGA.

Dennis James, the current lawyer for Westville, also has concerns with the MOU. The town sent seven questions in writing to the three units, receiving answers to all of them. One of the upsetting ones was when they asked if they wouldn’t be included in the sharing of the Wellness Centre’s deficit under a new government.

“The answer to the question that caused me great consternation, when the mayor read out the question about the guarantee against the deficit of the Wellness Centre, they said this agreement can’t fetter (can’t restrict) future councils from making decisions,” said James. “If they’re saying even if we agree to it now that future councils could change their view, then it does raise questions of what this MOU is about. It raises questions that if you agree future councils can’t be bound now, then why don’t we get back to the fundamental question of just studying it and know whether it’s in the best interest? Why are you answering that question that way, but making it a precondition for protection of the municipality rate bearers on another?”

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