To the Editor:
It’s been 100 days, more or less, since Pictou County residents overwhelmingly rejected amalgamation. We were told by the MOU committee and other YES supporters that amalgamation was the only path forward for our county. Yet, in little more than 100 days, the County has seen a number of positive changes.
Two new industries have announced plans to locate in New Glasgow. Web.com will set up in the former Convergys space. The company aims to create 330 new jobs within three years. Value Village will locate in the former Zeller’s space, and will likely employ 50-70 people.
Neither of these employers require us to sacrifice our environment for jobs. In fact, Value Village has the added benefit of reducing waste and helping people save money by purchasing quality goods at low prices. Both businesses have chosen to locate in existing vacant buildings.
New federal infrastructure grants totaling over $12.5 million will allow 13 projects to move forward, with municipalities paying only 25 per cent of costs. More than $3.5 million was granted to the MacLellan’s Brook sewer project. Only a few months ago, we were told by the MOU that this project could only be funded if we voted for amalgamation. Additional projects beyond those in the amalgamation capital plan have now been funded in the County, Trenton, Stellarton and New Glasgow.
The Town of Pictou’s water treatment project is also moving ahead. We were told this project too depended on amalgamation. Now we find that the project was funded before April, 2016 – well before the plebiscite — with federal and provincial governments each contributing $1.6 million, according to Council minutes of April 18.
Funding for a $15.2 million expansion of the NSCC Stellarton campus and funding for a new Stellarton Town Square project by the Sobey’s Foundation were also announced recently.
These are all good news stories. They also carry another message. There is not only one path forward for the county, despite what we were told during the amalgamation campaign.
New businesses have chosen to locate in our un-amalgamated county. Substantial federal and provincial funding has been received. A large number of the projects in the MOU’s Amalgamation Capital Plan are now funded and moving ahead, and other projects that were not in the plan are also moving forward. All without amalgamation.
On the down side, we’ve seen the school board announce a school review process for all schools in the Town of Pictou. Not one of the proposed options would keep students in the community. However, the un-amalgamated Town of Pictou still exists as a municipality, with a distinct identity and a municipal government that can join with residents to fight to maintain schools in the community. What would have been different with amalgamation, where one part of the amalgamated municipality would have benefited from school closures in Pictou while another part was hurt? It’s worth considering …
Now we’re heading into municipal elections. Some candidates still think amalgamation should be in our future. Some are even saying that the plebiscite was a bad idea, and that the province should legislate amalgamation.
What can we learn from the past 100 days? We can learn that there is never only one solution to a problem. We can also learn that we were not told the whole story during the amalgamation campaign. We can learn that we do not have to give up local municipal governments and independence in order to move forward.
If, in the coming elections, we elect municipal officials who are committed to strong local communities with responsible and responsive municipal governments, and who are willing to look for creative solutions to challenges, we should see more good news in the future.