The provincial cabinet minister responsible for Manitoba's controversial municipal-amalgamation legislation said Tuesday he's open to the Opposition's suggestions on how Bill 33 can be improved.
Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux said he is open to amendments from Progressive Conservative MLAs, but he added the window for such changes is short.
"If they have some suggestions on how to make parts of this bill better, improve it, improve municipalities and how they work together, I am open to those discussions," Lemieux said after question period.
Bill 33, now before the legislature, would require towns and rural municipalities with fewer than 1,000 people to merge with other municipalities. Affected municipalities would have to submit merger plans by Dec. 1. The plans would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.
The bill is one of dozens tied up in the legislature this summer.
Lemieux said Tuesday he is still adamant the legislation proceed. He would not speculate about what sections of the bill he might be open to changing. However, he promised any constructive discussions he had with the Tories on the bill would be kept confidential.
Conservative critic Blaine Pedersen (Midland) was not impressed by Lemieux's offer.
"You can't amend a bad bill," he told reporters. "You can amend a workable bill into something that is better. But a bad bill can't be made workable."
Pedersen said the government sprung amalgamation on municipalities without consulting them. The minister should withdraw the bill and seek input on the issue from local governments, he said.
He said the Conservatives don't oppose municipal amalgamation, but they don't believe it should be imposed by the province as Lemieux is proposing.
If two or more municipalities wish to amalgamate, the province should act as a facilitator, Pedersen said.
"That's the way amalgamation should work -- from the bottom up, not from the top down."