A citizens organization is expressing disappointment with a decision regarding the number of councillors and electoral districts for the new Windsor-West Hants municipality.
In an Aug. 19 decision, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) set the number of councillors and electoral districts for the new regional municipality at 11, with a mayor elected at large. A hearing for the application was held June 24 and 25.
The Think Hantsport Innovative Development Association (THIDA) was granted standing as a formal intervenor in the application. The application was made by the co-ordinating committee responsible for the municipal transition.
The UARB didn’t accept THIDA’s submission that Hantsport required its own distinct electoral district and council representative. In its decision, the board stated that, in this case, “the drawing of polling district boundaries should reflect a council that is structured to take a regional perspective, rather than protecting parochial or territorial constituencies” that existed within former municipal incarnations.
GROUP EXPRESSES ‘DISAPPOINTMENT’
Jane Davis of THIDA said they are disappointed with this aspect of the decision. She said the group was a formal intervenor in a 2016 boundary review hearing as well, when it requested that Hantsport be designated its own electoral district.
“They were attempting to do the same thing then as they were attempting to do now, which was combine us with Mount Denson,” Davis said. “We were successful in that and Hantsport remained its own district. They termed us a Community of Interest.”
However, the group was unable to accomplish the same this time. Davis said, “it’s always appropriate to have a specific voice, a dedicated voice, and we’ve lost that opportunity now.”
Although THIDA was unsuccessful in arguing a case for Hantsport to be an electoral district, Davis said at least the group took the opportunity to try to do what was best for the residents of the community. That was to have a dedicated councillor for Hantsport on the new regional council.
However, Davis recognizes that the mandate of the UARB is to “look at the bigger picture”, which it did in this instance. She said her thinking is that a lot of people didn’t understand the process, which she said was “unfortunate.”
Up until a recent amalgamation with West Hants, Hantsport was incorporated as a town and had its own mayor and council.
‘KEY BUILDING BLOCK’
Transition co-ordinator Kevin Latimer said establishing the council size and polling districts is “one of the key building blocks” in creating the regional municipality. Two previously separate units are morphing into one. Latimer said this has been disruptive for both and has involved a lot of change. There were choices to be made along the way that, at times, involved compromise.
“In trying to strike the right note in this case, we had to balance many competing interests,” Latimer said.
They’ve combined the urban, suburban and the rural community to achieve a structure with a whole new look and feel to it. This structure will allow a new council to bring “a new and fresh perspective to the opportunities and the challenges that face the region.” He said it would also be a structure “that is publicly acceptable and ultimately serve the citizens better here.”
Latimer said the municipal merger has been a “dynamic process.” Earlier this year, the co-ordinating committee retained consulting firm Stantec to conduct a study on what the new electoral boundaries and council should look like. He said extensive consultations were conducted to engage the public with regard to these aspects and to seek input.
Latimer said the board hearing also presented an opportunity for anyone from the public to weigh in on the matters. However, no one came forward and, ultimately, the board cancelled that part of the process.
“To me, that said at that point in time the committee had done everything certainly within its means to seek the input it wanted and needed to come up with the size and the structure that was going to serve the region well,” Latimer said.
He said creating electoral boundaries isn’t a science and the results achieved are never perfect. It was a close call for the board when determining there would be 11 districts. Another proposed scenario would have established nine districts.
There will be an opportunity again for the public to weigh in on the number of electoral districts and boundaries when a mandated review takes place in 2022.
Latimer pointed out that the decision to merge was made by the current councils of the two municipal units, unlike in other regions in Nova Scotia, where amalgamations have been imposed by the province.
Last fall, the province passed legislation to facilitate the Windsor-West Hants municipal merger. The new regional municipality comes into existence on April 1, 2020. The first council and mayoral elections will be held in March 2020.
The co-ordinating committee recently announced that Mark Phillips would be the new municipality’s first chief administrative officer (CAO). His work officially begins on Sept. 26. Phillips is currently CAO of the Town of Kentville.
GO ONLINE: For more information on the ongoing Windsor and West Hants amalgamation process or to give input through an online survey, visit https://www.strongerregion.ca/.