Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Forced mergers?

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The province said last year it was going to develop a process to help small municipalities merge with their neighbours to create more viable local governments. It was to be a "voluntary amalgamation."

It was a good idea then, and it still is. Unfortunately, the NDP has changed its tune and it now sounds like local governments have been given an ultimatum: Get your affairs in order by the end of the month, or else.

Most municipalities with less than 1,000 people should consider merging, but it should not be mandatory. The RM of Victoria Beach, for example, is prosperous, happy and efficient in its own enclave. It's not a drag on the province or its neighbours, but the government on Broadway thinks it knows best.

Many small municipalities, moreover, are already on their way out because of rural depopulation. Some forecasts say more than 40 municipalities will have no residents by 2050.

But other small communities are attached to their identities and traditions, and they don't want to merge. Most of them share services with their neighbours to cut costs, and it's questionable how much more efficient they might become under amalgamation.

The province should allow local ratepayers to have the last word on the subject, since they are the ones paying the bills.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2013 A10

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