Mon­tague de­ci­sion on amal­ga­ma­tion reached in haste

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

For a time, it seemed amal­ga­ma­tion of the Three Rivers area was an achiev­able goal. Those hopes were dealt a po­ten­tially-lethal blow this week when Mon­tague town coun­cil said a re­sound­ing no to the idea of unit­ing seven east­ern Prince Ed­ward Is­land com­mu­ni­ties.

Mon­tague Mayor Richard Collins and many of his coun­cil went on record to sug­gest the bound­aries of the Three Rivers re­gion are too big and too far in dis­tance to be­come one su­per town of some 8,000 peo­ple.

One could ar­gue the size of mu­nic­i­pal bound­aries and re­gional co-op­er­a­tion are only lim­ited by the nar­row scope and think­ing of the political lead­ers in­volved.

Mon­tague says it won’t take part in fur­ther dis­cus­sions. The town is tak­ing its ball and go­ing home.

“And we also have a feel­ing that to bring in two towns, both 100 years old, may not be the right mix,” adds Mayor Collins. There is the real road­block. Un­der amal­ga­ma­tion, Three Rivers civic govern­ment might log­i­cally lo­cate to Ge­orge­town, the his­toric cap­i­tal of Kings County, and site of the county court­house. The port and heavy in­dus­try could once again boom if naval ship­build­ing con­tracts come its way.

Mon­tague is the ser­vice cen­tre – with stores, gro­cery chains, a shop­ping mall, schools, restau­rants, hos­pi­tal, curl­ing club and a new recre­ational com­plex. There is no rea­son why the two towns couldn’t share the pie as part­ners.

So the sta­tus quo is good enough for Mon­tague even though the march to amal­ga­ma­tion is com­ing - by car­rot or stick. The prov­ince has a re­port call­ing for 70 P.E.I. mu­nic­i­pal units to be re­duced to 20. The govern­ment would pre­fer com­mu­ni­ties to lead the way in­stead of wait­ing for leg­is­la­tion but even­tu­ally it will be forced to act.

The Phil Wood con­sul­tant’s re­port pre­dicted ben­e­fits for Three Rivers – the larger unit would in­duce more peo­ple to live there and pro­vin­cial grants would dou­ble. There was no talk of tax in­creases – the usual deal-breaker in amal­ga­ma­tion dis­cus­sions, es­pe­cially for ru­ral ar­eas.

The re­port was tabled in mid-De­cem­ber and the plan was to take the re­port back to coun­cils for dis­cus­sion and in­volve pub­lic in­put. Mon­tague coun­cil de­cided it had seen and heard enough and wasn’t in­ter­ested in gath­er­ing pub­lic opin­ion.

It’s es­sen­tial to let cit­i­zens have a voice in this great en­deavor. Pub­lic meet­ings should be held to let coun­cils gauge cit­i­zens’ re­ac­tion.

As a part­ing olive twig, Mayor Collins said if amal­ga­ma­tion does go for­ward, the bound­aries of the town should be ex­panded to ar­eas served by the Mon­tague fire district. That would in­clude Mon­tague, Lower Mon­tague, Val­ley­field and Bru­denell. Left out are Lorne Val­ley, Cardi­gan or Ge­orge­town. Bru­denell is the real prize with its lengthy com­mer­cial district.

Mon­tague says it will no longer par­tic­i­pate in fur­ther dis­cus­sions or an up­com­ing meet­ing on amal­ga­ma­tion. To their credit, the other six ar­eas say they are go­ing for­ward and will give amal­ga­ma­tion a thor­ough re­view with the ul­ti­mate hope of suc­cess.

Mon­tague could find it­self a lone out­post in the middle of a greater mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Town res­i­dents, faced with progress march­ing past them, should de­mand a chance to have their voices heard – through a plebiscite or at least an open meet­ing. In­stead of be­ing in a po­si­tion to dic­tate terms, the town could find it­self iso­lated.

A day af­ter coun­cil reached its de­ci­sion, HGS Canada call cen­tre an­nounced it was clos­ing down and tak­ing 65 jobs with it. In its hey­day since open­ing in 2002, HGS had ap­prox­i­mately 150 peo­ple work­ing there, a mas­sive boost to the lo­cal econ­omy.

The call cen­tre is clos­ing be­cause the area work force is too lim­ited and pre­vented HGS from pro­duc­ing the scale that the busi­ness re­quired to be sus­tain­able. Amal­ga­ma­tion was pro­jected to sta­bi­lize the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion and make it at­trac­tive for more peo­ple to move to the area.

The first re­ac­tion to Mon­tague’s de­ci­sion to re­ject amal­ga­ma­tion cer­tainly isn’t a favourable one.

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