Amalgamation of small unincorporated communities into a new or existing town or municipality will cause the individual communities to lose their unique identities.
“The Federation of Prince Edward Island Municipalities wants to make it easier for local communities to expand their boundaries, amalgamate with neighboring communities and to rationalize and make more efficient the provision of local services. Federation President Bruce MacDougall claims the status quo is not acceptable and something has to be done.
I am not so sure about that.
Municipal amalgamation is nothing new on Prince Edward Island. In the mid 1990s both Charlottetown and Summerside expanded their municipal boundaries, taking in surrounding communities. Led by the provincial government of the day, it was a tumultuous and highly controversial change in municipal governance that has accorded greater power to the Island’s largest urban communities.
I vividly recall then Minister of Municipal Reform, Jeannie Lea, bravely walking into a raucous meeting in St. Eleanors, where residents of that old and proud community on the edges of Summerside were prepared to string her up.
Just so history is understood here, St. Eleanors was settled long before ‘Green’s Shore’ which later became Summerside, and it was the County Seat until the 1870s, with its courthouse, churches and merchants.
The apostles of municipal amalgamation will argue that local history and identity are just romantic and indulgent ideas and that bigger is always better.
Others look soberly at both our cities, the two guinea pigs of amalgamation, and see debt-ridden, over serviced communities, administered by self important elected municipal leaders.
In 2009, Premier Robert Ghiz tasked late former Justice Ralph Thompson to review provincial land use policies and local governance.
In his watershed report, Judge Thompson cautioned that prior to further municipal amalgamation, “Islanders will have to be convinced that changes will be fair, affordable, necessary, not unduly onerous and in the best interest of the Island as a whole.”
That’s a stiff litmus test.
Thompson then went on to recommend carving up the Island into 24 “sustainable” municipal units from west to east.
The Thompson Report ends with this warning: “We cannot afford to maintain the status quo in a world that is changing all around us.”
Clearly, Prince Edward Island must change in many respects to better its chances for economic and jurisdictional survival.
We need a new Island vision for the future, one built around quality education, respect for the land and entrepreneurship among other things.
We need a move away from the present industrial agricultural model and we desperately need greater environmental stewardship and more effective provincial land use policies.
We also need rural re-population and economic development.
But I am doubtful if wholesale municipal government reform can bring about any of this desired change.
The latest boundary expanding initiative proposes the amalgamation of Brudenell, Cardigan, Georgetown, Lorne Valley, Lower Montague, Montague, and Valleyfield, an amalgamation that advocates say will create the fourth largest municipality in the province and strengthen the rural political voice in eastern Prince Edward Island.
Such a proposed coming together of local communities with their own histories and identities, most of which presently do not share geographical boundaries, will be a hard sell. For its part, Montague has had second thoughts and is not participating in the venture.
In a small province such as ours, we can’t afford to lose local diversity and sense of place. Recasting boundaries and creating new communities in name and function destroys that local character and I believe takes us further down the road to jurisdictional unsustainability and irrelevance.
We cannot afford culturally to let our local communities disappear.
In my opinion, we need a more fundamental and comprehensive review of governance, one that goes well beyond municipal amalgamations and empire building.
How many springs does it really take to wind a watch?
Perhaps we should consider a political landscape that begins with a smaller Provincial Legislature, three county governments, two cities and precious little else.
There is a little book on my shelf that rings out a particular truth.
It is Alan Rayburn’s ‘Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island’, published in 1973, as the Island celebrated the 100th Anniversary of joining Confederation.
Moore’s Point? There are two of them. Campbell’s Creek, Toronto, Suffolk and Milburn. There are two of these as well. Elliotvale, Kingston, Red House, Donaldson and Southampton.
Can you close your eyes and locate them?
In a galaxy not that far away, an Island premier once sarcastically and dismissively remarked that Hunter River is just a way to get to Summerside, it doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.
It’s that kind of thinking we need to guard against in our efforts to rationalize, consolidate, amalgamate and make everything bigger.”