MANTUA, N.S. — A long-time West Hants resident wants council to know that the people must have a say before municipal reform can be embraced.
Raymond Meehan, of Mantua, launched an anti-amalgamation petition several years ago when municipal reform first took the spotlight.
He shelved the petition when his late wife fell ill but has since dusted it off and he is debating on relaunching it.
“I don't think the government has the right to dictate to the people. The government works for the people, the people don't work for the government,” said Meehan, while thumbing through news clippings pertaining to amalgamation while sitting at his kitchen table.
Meehan says he has about 1,500 signatures, largely from residents from the areas of Brooklyn, Ellershouse, Mantua and Avondale. He hasn't visited Falmouth or Hantsport yet, but if citizens are interested in helping him spread the word, he'll carry on.
“If I can get some people to help me, then I'll continue the petition,” said Meehan, noting the voice of the people must be heard.
Meehan says he's not necessarily against amalgamation – he's against the manner in which the county and town are pushing it on residents.
His ultimate goal is to see a plebiscite occur before any consolidation is approved.
“If they have a plebiscite, I'd be happy. If the people want it, fine; if the people don't want it, fine. To me that's not an issue. I just think the people have the right to have a say and they're not getting that,” said Meehan.
On July 19, 2018, at a special in camera (private) session of joint council, Windsor and West Hants councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of negotiating with the province to consolidate the two municipal units. As the discussion was held behind closed doors, the public does not know how the councils, which frequently butt heads on issues, came to the decision.
In a phone interview, West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian said he's aware of the petition and the request for a plebiscite but said council is not going down that road.
“We have a URB process that's been suspended until Oct. 31. That's a fact that we know right now,” said Zebian, alluding to the amalgamation petition and application that was presented to the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board by the Avon Region Citizens Coalition (ARC) and supported by the Town of Windsor. West Hants adamantly opposed the application.
“We know another fact out there is the province does not support any plebiscite of any nature on this matter so if there's a plebiscite, there is no financial support from the province,” said Zebian, adding, “So that would be a disservice to the public as well if we were to go through a URB process. There would be many, many studies having to be ordered for us to know certain things.”
From going through the dissolution process with Hantsport, Zebian said staff have indicated that most of the studies were outdated or not useful by the time the transition happened.
Windsor and West Hants are seeking to bypass the UARB process if the provincial government passes special legislation so that the municipal units can consolidate.
“Council feels it's the best option right now to enter into negotiations with the province to get the best deal for our citizens,” said Zebian.
When asked about public input during the process, Zebian said residents' concerns will be heard down the road.
“The province is very, very wholeheartedly on side with a lot of public engagement about what a new unit will look like, what's involved in the unit, so on and so forth,” said Zebian.
“The public engagement part would be going forward after a decision has been made – whether we're consolidating the two units or not. It wouldn't be about actually if we're consolidating or if we are not.”
Meehan says he's not in favour of having a plebiscite now; he wants to wait until all of the information is presented to residents so that they can make an informed choice.
“Let them have their meetings... and then give people the education, let them understand what it's all about, and then before they sign on the dotted line, then have the plebiscite and let the people decide if it's good or not good,” said Meehan.
“I hope they do like they say and educate, let the people know what the facts are and don't lie to them,” he continued. “Let the people decide. Whether it's good for the people or bad for the people is irrelevant. The question is: what do people want? There's a lot of pros and cons on it.”
Meehan said anyone looking to sign the petition or help him circulate it can give him a call at 902-253-2615.