Jack Novack, a professor in the local government program at Dalhousie University, is questioning Parrsboro Town Council’s decision to vote almost immediately on whether to seek approval to join Cumberland County.
Town Councillors decided yesterday to hold the vote next Wednesday after being told by the province that it must be done by August 30 if Parrsboro wants to avoid holding a municipal election in October 2016.
It takes a full year to conduct studies required by the province’s Utility and Review Board (UARB), the body that would ultimately decide whether amalgamation between town and county could go ahead.
“It would be neat if this were all said and done in time for the next municipal election, but you know what, that’s not the end-all, be-all,” Novack said in a telephone interview today. “The most important thing is that the community of Parrsboro be a willing and informed participant and be co-architects of their future.”
He suggested there’s no reason to rush into an application now because nothing has changed in the last six months or even six years.
“The tendency to create the crises under which you can justify quick and sometimes hasty action is really not warranted,” he added.
Citizens need more time and more say
Under the Municipal Government Act, it would be possible to allow citizens to vote on amalgamation in a non-binding plebiscite, but Novack suggested that voting would not be as desirable as giving people more time to consider their choices while engaging them in the process.
“The crucial thing is a willing and informed population who have gone through it, who have thought about it, have reflected upon it, have heard from people, have talked to each other, ” Novack said.
“You have a real opportunity for people to become familiar with what is this local government all about, what’s important about it, what’s worth preserving, what’s non-negotiable, what is negotiable, what would we be prepared to give up, could we possibly be even stronger with the county?”
Novack said it would take time to answer these questions and to consider how all of the communities in Cumberland County might come up with a municipal structure that fits with local histories and traditions.
“There’s great opportunity to take a look at Cumberland and say, maybe Cumberland can be the leading edge of municipal reform in this province and demonstrate that rather than a town losing, that the town actually gains. Maybe Parrsboro becomes the seat of something important on behalf of the county,” he said.
“I don’t know what these answers are, but I do think that the UARB is probably not the place for these kinds of conversations to take place,” Novack added. “The UARB’s a quasi-judicial body which is quite an intimidating process for anybody to come and make their case known.”
After a group of residents filed an application with the UARB in 2010 seeking to dissolve the Village of Pugwash, the village hired Novack to write a report and appear as an expert witness. In 2012, the Board decided that Pugwash could keep its village status within Cumberland County.
Novack is also co-author of the book, Grassroots Democracy: Local Government in the Maritimes.
To read excerpts from my 2013 radio interview with Professor Novack click here.