Nova Scotia bill to consolidate two municipalities moves forward despite opposition

HALIFAX — Provincial legislation to allow a contentious merger between a town and neighbouring county in northeastern Nova Scotia went through a committee stage Thursday without change.

The all−party law amendments committee returned a bill that would join the Town of Antigonish with the Municipality of the County of Antigonish to the legislature for further debate and final reading.

A group of residents challenged the merger but lost in December, when the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that both councils had the legal right to ask the province for permission to consolidate. That decision is being appealed.

In January, both councils voted to proceed with their intention to dissolve the town under a consolidation that would adopt the county’s name.

Many of the residents who are opposed to the merger told the legislature committee they wanted the chance to vote directly on the plan through a plebiscite.

“Today is looking like a rubber stamp,” Antigonish resident Coline Morrow said in an interview following Thursday’s hearing. “This legislation will pass, but the people of Antigonish in my observations are interested in politics and they do have long memories and we will remember this.”

Morrow said most of the people opposed to the project are upset that the process didn’t provide enough information on the details of the merger.

Antigonish resident Jack Sullivan told the committee that although he has taken no position on the idea of consolidation, he and others are against the way the two councils have proceeded with the merger, and upset by the fact there has been no apparent business analysis.

“Simply put, the pros and cons — we never got it,” Sullivan said. “Over 4,200 people signed a petition asking for information to make an informed decision on the direction their communities are to go.”

He said the issue has boiled down to a “lack of trust” with elected officials.

However, several people who made presentations to the committee spoke in favour of the merger. Sherman England, who lives in Aulds Cove in Antigonish County, said the two municipal units are so intertwined that consolidation “just makes sense.”

England said both councils already co−operate well together to serve a combined population of just over 20,000 people.

“As a resident I often question why two local governments are needed to provide essentially the same services with a dual set of infrastructure,” he said. “I believe it’s important that we operate as a single large municipality that can plan and adapt as required.”

Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr has said elections will be held in October for a new mayor and council for the consolidated municipality. Under the legislation the merger would take effect Nov. 1.

In the meantime, the bill would establish the creation of a transition committee to oversee the change. Lohr has also said both councils have committed to not lay off any employees of either municipality.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press