ANTIGONISH — Despite being disappointed that its request for special legislation was not tabled during the recently completed spring sitting of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, officials with the Town of Antigonish and Municipality of the County of Antigonish are committed to moving forward with a proposed merger of the neighbouring municipalities.
Mayor Laurie Boucher and Warden Owen McCarron, during their monthly council meetings – on April 17 and 18, respectively – reiterated each municipality’s position, while also outlining the meeting in which they received word that their request, as anticipated, would not be brought forward to MLAs for consideration.
In a March 24 meeting over Zoom, Nova Scotia Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr – both relayed – gave them the news; they said that he noted the special legislation request would not make the cut for the sitting.
“We fell victim to those [healthcare and provincial budget],” McCarron told reporters of the area of focus of the provincial government during the spring sitting.
The veteran politician – who is no stranger to the relationship between municipalities and the province – noted that there is always plenty of legislation under consideration during each sitting.
“Some don’t make the cut, and we didn’t make it [this time],” McCarron offered.
Nevertheless, he said, that doesn’t affect their position that consolidation is the right move.
“Absolutely – we are very committed to it,” McCarron added, when asked if support a municipal marriage remains strong.
Referring to the council meeting completed moments earlier, the long-time councillor suggested that increasing costs pressures – such as RCMP contracts – are putting a growing strain on municipalities; something that is expected only to continue.
“We need to become as efficient as possible,” McCarron said, noting that goal would be best achieved through consolidation.
Since last October, when each council – during individual special meetings – approved making the request for special legislation, there seemed to be a feeling with both municipalities that it would be dealt with during the 2023 spring sitting; an assurance shared during some media interviews.
In the April 18 scrum, McCarron agreed that county and town officials were of the mindset that the spring sitting would be the “natural spot” to table the legislation.
“We were very encouraged,” he said, but he added – when it comes to decision time – there are “bosses of bosses,” who have the final say.
When asked if he thought the municipalities were ‘thrown under the bus,’ by the department, McCarron offered, “No, not really,” while reiterating the provincial focus on healthcare and the budget.
As for the push to continue on the path to consolidation, which officials said will continue, those behind the pushback also remain steadfast.
Let Antigonish Decide, a grassroots community group, has stated its commitment to calling for a plebiscite on consolidation and challenging the legality of the process will continue. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court will its challenge to the legality of the municipalities’ request for special legislation during a hearing scheduled for Friday, July 7.
Resistance to continuing with the proposed consolidation also remains within each councils; last fall, the votes to move forward with the request for special legislation were not unanimous.
“It’s time to move on,” Councillor Harris McNamara said during discussion of the issue in the county committee of the whole meeting held prior to the April 18 regular session.
When it comes to community backing for consolidation, McCarron offered that there are “plenty of supporters,” while adding that many fear stating that position because of concern with being “chewed up” on social media.
As for whether the request for special legislation would be brought forward – maybe in the fall sitting – he noted that the province has “the ultimate say.”