Six Nova Scotia Municipalities Reject Amalgamation

For years, some provincial governments in Canada have been either forcing municipal amalgamations or offering incentives for municipalities to merge. This has included municipalities from the largest (Toronto), which was forced into a merger over voter disapproval in 1998 in an advisory election to rural municipalities with fewer than 1,000 in Manitoba, forced to merge by the recently defeated provincial government.

A heated debate has ensued for decades over the issue. Those who believe amalgamations are beneficial claim that costs will drop along with taxes. They claim amalgamations reduce duplication of services. Those who believe that amalgamations tend to be harmful (in most situations, this writer), note that merging the cost structures and political cultures of even adjacent municipalities is likely to raise costs and taxes and note that the duplication of services claim ignores the fact that municipalities have exclusive service areas that preclude such a result.

Besides the disagreements over the quantitative evidence, the local opponents invariably rely on their own interest in keeping government close to home, not believing that bigger government routinely produces greater efficiencies.

The pressure to amalgamate continues in Canada. Recently, six Pictou County, Nova Scotia municipalities began to consider amalgamating. Two dropped out, but the remaining four took advantage of a provincial government program to study amalgamation and then place the question before voters.

The province offered $27 million for infrastructure costs, operating costs and transitional costs, in the event that the amalgamation took place. On May 28, the voters soundly rejected the amalgamation, by a nearly two to one margin. Residents in New Glasgow supported the amalgamation strongly, residents in Pictou narrowly defeated it, while residents of Stellarton and the municipality of Pictou County opposed the measure by three to one margins. According to The News, only four wards or districts approved the plan out of the 21 in the four municipalities. The Newsarticle includes a detailed chronology of the events leading up to the rejection.

According to CTV News, The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board had projected the merger would produce annual savings of $500,000 annually, which pales by comparison to more than 50 times higher provincial offer of $27 million as an incentive to amalgamate. Further, as has been shown in Toronto and elsewhere, higher costs can result, even where substantial savings have been projected.