Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Iconic poplar piers at risk

Forced amalgamations of local governments threaten uniqueness

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Anyone familiar with the southwest shoreline of Lake Winnipeg will recognize the area's iconic poplar piers.

These piers, erected each spring and removed after the September long weekend, offer much more than a pathway over the rocky shoreline out to the sand bars.

They are an evening escape from mosquitoes and a breezy reprieve from the hot afternoon sun. But mostly, they are a communal meeting space -- one of the last preserves of the public commons where, for generations, neighbours and families have interacted daily in ways long since gone in larger cities, suburbs and communities.

It takes a lot of hard work and craftsmanship to build a pier. It also takes a political commitment from the local government to pay the costs to erect and dismantle eight public piers that are only available for a few months each summer.

With the government's forthcoming Municipal Modernization Act, which will force smaller municipalities to amalgamate with a larger, neighbouring community, local services unique to individual communities are all on the negotiating table.

The Village of Dunnottar's historically significant public piers are an example of the culturally relevant local services that are at risk should the forced amalgamation come through.

Inexplicably, the one and only criterion forcing amalgamation is 1,000 permanent residents as reported in the 2011 Stats Canada census. Despite a voter's list of more than 1,800 and a summer population in the 3,000 range, our community will be forced to dissolve as our reported full time population is 696.

Well over 50 years ago, community services such as the public piers were a motivation for the ratepayers of Matlock, Whytewold and Ponemah to establish their own municipality. Until then, these beach communities were a part of St. Andrews. Along with Victoria Beach and Winnipeg Beach, our village was designated a cottage community by legislation.

Our elections occur in the summer when the majority of voters are present. Bill 33 completely discounts these voters, many of whom return each summer from various parts of Canada and around the world. Dunnottar's modernization will return it back from whence it came.

Village ratepayers will no longer be represented by four elected councillors and a mayor. As part of St. Andrews, the village's three beach communities could become part of a larger ward represented by one councillor. Currently, the total remuneration for five elected officials in Dunnottar is equivalent to the average cost of a single St. Andrews' ward councillor.

As its own municipality, the village's amenities have expanded to include a public landfill, sewage lagoons, a community centre, parks, the municipal office, a fully-equipped public works site, garbage and sewage collection and grass cutting. In this age of economic uncertainty, the village provides full-time employment for public works and office personnel along with many seasonal positions. It has also been recognized for its proactive environmental policies.

Notably, Dunnottar is ranked first on a list of "healthy" municipalities, as acknowledged in the Brandon University Rural Development Institute study used by the province to justify amalgamation. One reason for Dunnottar's strength is it already cost-shares a number of its services with its neighbouring municipalities where it makes sense to do so. Where it doesn't make sense, it works independently, the very reason for incorporating 66 years ago.

All of Dunnottar's services, jobs, public assets and political representation are now at risk, given initial analysis of the implications of the forced amalgamation. Good luck to the one councillor elected to represent Dunnottar as part of their expanded ward.

This is the short story of one municipality the modernization act will eliminate; there are many more stories like this across Manitoba.

I ask Premier Selinger to engage in sober second thought regarding forced amalgamation. Make it a voluntary exercise between municipalities which know best the unique needs and challenges of their communities.

At the very least uphold the spirit of the Manitoba Municipal Act, which recognizes the reality of cottage communities in law.

Articles 86(3) and 93.1(1) of the act regulate election dates and campaign periods in Victoria Beach, Winnipeg Beach and Dunnottar, by changing the municipal election dates from July to October, it will be more difficult to politically engage summer residents.

This is one indicator of a larger truth: forced amalgamation significantly reduces the number of elected municipal officials in Manitoba. By eliminating close to half of all municipalities, the province drastically reduces accountability. These changes do not bode well for the democratic process. How ironic the poplar pier, promoted with pride by the province on its Welcome to Manitoba homepage, may no longer be public in our area. With the risk of amalgamation, we face the unwelcome possibility the only piers stretching off the shoreline will be privately owned -- such is the legacy of imposed amalgamation with no consultation.

 

Bob H. Campbell is an elected Village of Dunnottar councillor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2013 A9

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