The missing issue

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Dispatches form the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches form the 148 by Fred Ryan

Isn’t there something odd about the municipal election now underway? Here’s what’s puzzling: the MRC Pontiac’s mayors decided a year ago to look at merging smaller municipalities into larger units. The exact municipalities targeted and the types of mergers possible were   varied, and it was the general idea of creating larger municipal government units that seemed to    interest the mayors.
No doubt, what also interested them was the Quebec Government’s decision to force amalgamation on many cities in the province, whether those cities wanted to merge or not. That same government assured  everyone they would look at the rural municipalities next. That’s us.
In fact MRC Pontiac might have been the province’s main target. With a population under 15,000 (the size of a modest town), we had 18 municipal governments. Second, Pontiac – like Aylmer and Montreal’s suburbs – has a significant anglo population. That government was the PQ, and the PQ is back in power. Back with spurs on, you might say, given the content of their Charter of Values.
Is there anyone across the province who thinks the PQ has forgotten its pledge to merge small municipalities, especially when they can drown minority-culture municipalities into larger “Valuable Culture” municipalities? Only an ostrich will fail to see the next round of mergers on the way. The question is when.
It was very pro-active and self-assertive for the MRC Pontiac to initiate a study of amalgamation all on its own.
The study included public and private meetings, and brought out plenty of opinions. Many people see mergers as a threat to local democracy. Right now, your councillor just lives down the street (or road). In a large municipality, you’d have to make an appointment with the councillor. That’s a loss of democracy. Others see large governments as wasteful, a double-sided coin. Larger governments can bring together large sums to build big projects, like a swimming pool, a rail line, or a recycling centre; but the large bodies do seem more expensive – more employees, more committees and agencies, more people on contract and plenty of consultants. There are good considerations on both sides of this argument about mergers.
The only step that seems not-so-good is the ostrich’s: head in the sand, pretending nothing is    happening. That’s what Aylmer tried, and found itself forced into an arranged marriage it didn’t want. 
Pontiac’s consultations and polls showed the    public is largely in favour of mergers – for example, the Journal’s on-line poll showed almost 74% in favour or amalgamation.
So what have our mayors done? They’ve retreated from the study, from any pro-activity, setting out our needs and desires, our bottom-line concessions. This election would have been a democratic place to put this question to the test.
That’s half the puzzle. It’s surprising in this      election to see how many councillors and mayors are unopposed. This isn’t a sign of popular satisfaction; it’s a clear sign we don’t care. Which is another form of sticking our head in the sand—the voters’ heads.
Of course it is not true, but could it be interpreted that the mayors and    councillors who killed the merger studies merely want to keep their jobs, prestige, and community power? Mergers would end many of those jobs.  Should the very people who      benefit personally from a public decision make that decision? Especially knowing their public is so unconnected and passive?
Should they have gone against a measure supported by the public – just before an election, which could have made an issue out of mergers and attracted more public interest and participation?
That’s puzzling.