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Local governments not in pace with change: poli-sci prof

Nova Scotia is behind the times when it comes to amalgamation, says a professor of political science with St. Francis Xavier University.

Dr. Jim Bickerton said Monday there is a movement across Canada and throughout the developed world that sees fewer municipal governments and more consolidated governments.

“It is tied to the changing character of economic development and local level development responsibilities and that leads to a need to be more rational,” he said.

In Nova Scotia, he said, the amalgamation of Cape Breton’s municipal units is similar to Pictou County’s proposed amalgamation because the two areas have common histories and rich backgrounds in coal mining.

Bickerton said there was no “economic miracle” for Cape Breton when it amalgamated, but the best form of government was put forward to adapt and manage every situation in the region.

He said there will never be a complete agreement that amalgamation worked for areas of HRM and CBRM, but it is important to look at the long-terms benefits rather than the short-term savings.

“Any rational analysis of the situation would ask how many politicians and service departments do you need for 50,000 people?” he said, adding the current model of government is based on an older economy that included many coal mines.

“Times have changed and we haven’t kept up with the change. In 1973, they recommended this, more than 40 years ago, and no action has taken place.”

Amalgamated governments create efficient and rational local government that clearly share a common fate, he added.

“They are all tied together so what benefits one, benefits the other.”

He said the fear of a loss of identity cannot undermine the prosperity for the entire group, but people would probably be more accepting of change if there were better economic growth in the area rather than long-term decline and stagnation.

The Ivany report clearly states change must be embraced, he said, which has been a trend across the country. He said municipal governments have amalgamated across the world and Nova Scotia is out of step.

“It's shameful really that our provincial government is unwilling to take a leadership role in this situation,” Bickerton said, adding that the debt will get so bad for some that amalgamation will be inevitable.

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