When Hurricane Fiona blew into Antigonish, staff from the Town of Antigonish and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish worked around the same table for 10 full days responding to the needs of the entire community. There were no municipal boundaries in our emergency response. The needs of one jurisdiction were never put above another. That’s because Antigonish is one community.

We are one community and should be governed by one municipality. Many issues facing our community, such as climate change, economic development, infrastructure planning, accessibility, and housing, will benefit significantly from one voice. It’s for these reasons, and others, that we feel consolidation is the best way forward.

As this process moves forward, we understand concerns about the lack of a plebiscite. Plebiscites are not commonly used when considering municipal mergers. There have been 11 municipal mergers in the province of Nova Scotia since 1995. Of those 11, only three involved a plebiscite. In all three instances, one of the municipalities specifically requested a plebiscite or one municipality did not support the merger.

Plebiscites often fail to boil down a complicated decision into a simple yes or no question. Historically, plebiscites have a low participation rate that undermines the legitimacy of the outcome. And because they’re non-binding, Councils still have to make the final decision.

That’s why instead, we conducted one of the most extensive public engagement processes our province has ever seen for a proposed municipal merger. We heard from thousands of people at community sessions, online, by email and phone, and in everyday conversations. These interactions gave us insight into what is most important to our residents, businesses, and communities. Those themes include maintaining fair taxation, high service quality, and protecting community identity.

So, what happens when two municipalities, both of whom are financial stable, growing, and yet dependent on each other, pro-actively decide to merge and become one? The path to a successful self-initiated merger of equals has been established by the Regions of West Hants and Queens. It’s through special legislation. This path has been endorsed by Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing and has been chosen by our elected councils.

There are many examples of conflict between our two municipalities. Those stories from the past are etched in our history. For decades, elected officials have been asked by residents, “Why can’t the Town and County just get along?”.

Currently the Town and County have many aligned priorities and considerable work has been done to improve our relationship. That relationship only works when there is leadership that want to work together, but that willingness will only take us so far. When the people change, and they will, so will the alignment.

The councils representing the Town and County unanimously voted to embark on a journey to explore what a merger could look like for Antigonish. It was a self-initiated process that saw us having honest conversations about our past and our future. Antigonish has set a standard for a new kind of municipal merger where we are in control. Both municipal councils voted to request special legislation to merge into one. This provincial legislation would ensure local decision making based on local priorities; it allows us to control our destiny.

A legislated merger is the best path forward for the Town and County. Becoming one is more than just folding one municipality into another. The intent is to build a new organizational structure that builds on existing strengths and better serves the community with staff who have considerable knowledge, passion, and experience.

Written by:

Owen McCarron, Warden of the Municipality of the County of Antigonish
Laurie Boucher, Mayor for the Town of Antigonish

As posted in the Chronicle Herald and Cape Breton Post April 28, 2023,