Election number two!

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Fred Ryan
Éditorialiste Invitée
Guest Editorialist

Following the September 20 federal vote are elections for municipal governments across Quebec, November 7.
With federal issues off the screen, we’ll be hearing more about municipalities and the people who run for local office. Those people are the hands-on leaders of our rural communities.

Fred Ryan
Éditorialiste Invitée
Guest Editorialist

Following the September 20 federal vote are elections for municipal governments across Quebec, November 7.
With federal issues off the screen, we’ll be hearing more about municipalities and the people who run for local office. Those people are the hands-on leaders of our rural communities.
 Nevertheless, attracting enough qualified candidates to actually run for office has always been a challenge. There will be seats won by acclamation, which is not bad in itself, but it does indicate a lack of interest in local issues and governance, which is a bad thing. So how do we encourage more of our neighbours to get involved in local politics? That’s a big subject in itself, but there remains the bigger question of the powers and freedom of action of municipal governments in general. Provinces, including our own, consider municipalities as their own creations and subject to provincial oversight and direction. A great deal of what municipal councils actually do is follow the rules, directives and mandates set for municipalities by the province. The province, of course, holds the upper hand, the purse strings.
After the election, about 50% of Pontiac’s councils will be led by new faces. Isn’t it time for us to look again at municipal amalgamation? Shouldn’t this be a big issue here? And if our 18 smallish municipalities cannot attract full slates for municipal elections, isn’t that an argument against 18 small municipalities within our MRC?  
For example, Portage-du-Fort has 238 inhabitants, Rapides-des-Joachims, 151, Alleyn & Cawood, 176, Sheenboro, 130 – hardly enough for a traditional village, let alone to support a municipal council. A council isn’t an inexpensive thing, although some of these expenses and infrastructure needs are covered by the province.  
The argument favouring a lot of tiny jurisdictions is that these communities are each governing themselves, government directly by the people, even if these governments can barely pay for their own maintenance. This is an important argument in any democracy. All Canadians have a right to govern themselves … somewhat.
But, really, given the small size of our communities, merging a few councils will not create massive bureaucracies out of touch with their constituents.
With Pontiac’s 14,142 population, which mergers would result in a big, cumbersome municipal government? There is no reason, for example, why a councillor for an amalgamated Mansfield/Fort Coulonge, or Portage/Clarendon cannot be familiar with the people and issues of nearby villages. We all have friends and family in
other municipalities – surely councillors can handle productive relationships with citizens in several villages.
Amalgamation is a contentious issue and not simple. But shouldn’t we put amalgamation back on council tables, even if some mergers are unpalatable? Ask your candidates for council where they stand on municipal amalgamation in order to improve efficiencies, funding and services to residents? You and I, we citizens, can put municipal amalgamation on the ballot.