The former provincial government took a heavy handed approach when they forced the amalgamation of smaller municipalities. They failed to provide adequate justification for their decision and there was considerable resistance and resentment from some of the affected municipalities. That is not so say that there wasn’t sufficient justification for amalgamation. The province failed to ‘sell’ it to the municipalities. This resulted in questionable decisions as the municipal governments grudgingly proceeded to comply with the legislation.
When the Riding Mountain West municipality was created the two local municipal governments of the day acted in a similarly heavy handed manner. The municipality was created without meaningful public consultation. They failed to engage the public in the process and this has resulted in very little public ‘buy-in’. We are now seeing what happens when a governing body not only fails to seek public opinion but rams decisions through without the necessary support of its people.
It is surprising that municipal leaders in Shellmouth-Boulton reacted the way they did. After all, the municipality was created by the amalgamation of the Shellmouth and Boulton municipalities. The reasons for that amalgamation should have been seen as justification for another amalgamation. But the reasons for amalgamating the municipalities of Shellmouth and Boulton in 1999 seemed to have been forgotten in 2014. The rural population is shrinking. It is difficult to justify having one council representative for every 100 people in a municipality. It is difficult to justify having administrative staff to support the councils in the municipalities with sparse populations. It is also difficult to find enough motivated and conscientious people to take on council positions.
On March 20, 2015 a number of concerned citizens gathered in the council chambers in Inglis when a special meeting of council was held to discuss changes to the by-law dealing with councillors’ indemnity. During that meeting councillors were asked to speak in turn to provide justification for the increase in their indemnity. It was during this session that one of the councillors stated that he had no interest in running for councillor and had only let his name stand for the position when he was persuaded to do so.
This is a telling comment that indicates serious problems in the composition of our local government. Even with the amalgamation and increase in the potential pool of candidates we have councillors in position who don’t really want to be there. Can we really expect thoughtful and well researched decisions from individuals who are reluctant to hold office? And what effect does this have on other council members who are working hard to ensure that their decisions reflect the best interests of the whole municipality? It must be truly frustrating to realize that your vote on a matter that you have researched can be negated by someone who really doesn’t want to be there.
I applaud the efforts of the dedicated and hardworking individuals who are on council. They have committed time and energy that I did not think that I had to give. But, we have a council in crisis.
Looking to the future I think that it would be wise to seriously consider switching from the election of councillors based on the ward system to one where councillors are elected ‘at large’. This would allow a larger pool from which to draw candidates for council position who are both interested and qualified. It might also create a healthy competition for the available positions. That would help to ensure that council members keep the best interests of the whole municipality in mind rather than focusing on local interests.