The conflict between Winnipeg and East St. Paul over a retail development that would straddle both communities is merely the latest in a series of border conflicts that cannot be resolved without provincial leadership.
The province, however, has been content to ignore the festering problems because it doesn't want to take the political risk of responsibly dealing with the rivalries and territoriality within the Winnipeg Capital Region.
East St. Paul understandably wants to welcome a Walmart, but Winnipeg just as understandably objects to the fact most of the traffic to the store will run through residential streets in North Kildonan.
Offers of tax sharing and new roads paid by the developer are no consolation for a community that doesn't want to become a thoroughfare on the edge of a retail power centre.
Winnipeg city councillors are now saying the city should annex lands that lie within the Perimeter Highway, including the slice that East St. Paul wants to build on. But if the city is allowed to do that, then rural municipalities that surround Winnipeg should also be allowed to annex city property that extends beyond the Perimeter and into their domain.
The existing boundaries of the city of Winnipeg were established in 1972 with the merger of 13 municipalities. The result was a border that meanders aimlessly with no clear sense of the urban zone.
The land-use conflicts would not be a problem if the province had established a regional planning commission with the power to designate how the border lands could be used.
Such a tool would mean a rural municipality couldn't approve a cement factory next to land the city has zoned as residential. Similarly, the city couldn't plan a new subdivision next to agricultural land, unless there was common consent.
The province, however, says it wants everyone to simply get along, which is no longer an adequate response.
A merger of all 16 municipalities into one big city is not necessary at this time, but a strategic realignment with East and West St. Paul, which are virtual suburbs already, is worth considering.
Other cities with large exurban communities have avoided merging by establishing rigorous planning bodies with jurisdiction over land use, water services, roads and transit.
The province has to decide which option it prefers -- merger or a regional planning body -- because the current void in authority will only interrupt organized growth and produce more conflicts.