Residents of Sackville, Dorchester and their surrounding communities will have little or no say in the composition of their new municipal council if the province sticks to its timeline for local government reform.
Plans call for initial decisions on the size of the new council, how its members will be elected and whether it will be incorporated as a town, to be made by Friday, February 11, in just over a week.
Decisions on outer boundaries are to be made even earlier, on February 4th.
“We’ve had an e-mail pushing those dates fairly hard,” Sackville Deputy Mayor Andrew Black told council’s committee on municipal reform during its first meeting last night.
Black, who is serving along with Mayor Mesheau on a provincial advisory committee which will hold its first closed-door meeting on February 8th, said that does not leave much time for consultation with members of the public.
“I get the feeling, based on history, that there is a certain way that the government and the minister’s department want the reform process to go and they don’t want to veer from that,” Black said. A timeline that appears on Sackville’s website shows that the initial decision about the name of the new municipality will also be made by February 11th, but Black says the province’s latest e-mail says nothing about a deadline for the new name.
The term “council composition” refers to the number of councillors and whether they will be elected at large (representing the whole municipality) or whether they will represent smaller wards.
Moncton uses a mixed system with two councillors elected at large and eight representing the city’s four wards.
No public consultation
Councillor Sabine Dietz said the 10-day timeline before decisions are made on February 11 shows that town council’s influence on the reform process is “extremely limited.”
“On top of that, our understanding was that there was some intent to engage the community, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside,” she added.
“I’m still hoping that there will be input possible, but we have to be very realistic that the end result is not ours, it’s not our decision,” Dietz concluded.
Councillor Allison Butcher agreed.
“I really, really believe in community consultation and I also really, really believe that it doesn’t matter how much consultation we do,” Butcher said.
“I think this is going to happen the way the province wants it to happen.”
Councillor Bruce Phinney echoed that thought.
“This is going ahead whether we like or not,” Phinney said. “We don’t have any say.”
Councillor Michael Tower compared the provincial reform process to getting on a bus.
“You’re hoping to get off in Moncton and they say, ‘Oh no, you can’t get off here, we’re going to Halifax.’
“‘Well how about stopping?’
“‘No, we can’t stop until we’re done.'”
Councillor Bill Evans called the province’s reforms “sleazy” and “undemocratic.”
“I think when you find yourself in a situation like this when you’re relatively powerless, you speak up and you call them out for what they’ve done,” he said.
“And you inform people about the likely consequence and you rally support.
“What you don’t do is provide cover for the people who are assaulting our rights and you certainly don’t actively assist them.”