Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Drop the mergers

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The Selinger government is slowly retreating from its stance on municipal mergers after some communities made convincing cases that compulsory amalgamations could do more harm than good.

The government now recognizes some small municipalities are unique and don't fit into the one-size-fits-all legislation that would have compelled every town and village with less than 1,000 people to merge with their neighbours.

A handful of beach and resort communities have shown the government's plans did not consider the seasonal changes in population and other factors that make them vibrant, solvent entities, even though their populations might be under the magic 1,000-person threshold.

The government says it will amend its legislation to exempt some small communities, but it needs to go further and drop the idea of compulsory amalgamation.

Small communities should consider merging, but only if it makes sense to them. Many villages already cost-share services and make joint decisions on issues that affect them.

The NDP, however, says merged communities will benefit from economies of scale, making them more efficient and affordable, which might be true in some cases, but the best place to make those determinations is at the local level.

Nor is there any guarantee that mergers would lower the cost of government and increase efficiency. Ontario forced small municipalities to merge several years ago, but in some cases, costs went up along with the size of the bureaucracy.

Rather than issuing a sweeping diktat, the province should assess communities that might benefit from amalgamation and offer help to those who see the merits in joining forces with their neighbours.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2013 A12

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