“Why can’t the Town and County just get along?”
We can’t tell you how many times we had to answer that question as Mayor and Warden of the Town and County of Antigonish.
When we were first elected, the relationship between the Town and County of Antigonish couldn’t have been further apart. Every decision was made in silos and there was next to no collaboration. It resulted in delayed infrastructure projects and programming, along with an overall disconnect in priorities for Antigonish residents.
It was frustrating. Not only that: it was unnecessary. Take the Antigonish Skatepark, for example. The fruition of the project took over 25 years, all due to the division between the Town and the County. It took a partnership with St. FX for things to actually come together. And in the months that followed, look at what we were able to accomplish when we worked as one cohesive unit.
Rather than duplication, we should focus on collaboration. We’ve learned this through authentic experiences of both municipalities joining forces for a greater goal.
Just look at the Antigonish Town & County Library. This project is a huge success story for our community. But there is a councillor from each municipality on the board and a member from each administration overseeing the facilities and attending meetings. This is unnecessary duplication. Also, when issues came up during construction it meant having to share all information twice, getting consensus from two councils instead of one. Inevitably, the process was jeopardized and slowed.
In Antigonish, we’re one community that collectively holds the same values. County residents work in the Town. Town residents work in the County. We all use the same sidewalks, same parking lots, and same roads. How many County residents do you know who come to town from, say, St. Andrews Street? Or Hawthorne Street? Or James Street? County residents come to town for banking, for their appointments, and to eat at restaurants. Town residents go to the County for school, groceries, beaches and more. We all want our community to be great and prosper.
We have said it before and will say it again: Antigonish is one community of people that live together with shared cultures, work together in diverse industries, and rely on each other for our social and economic well-being. The current political boundaries between the Town and County don’t affect our sense of belonging to the greater Antigonish community.
As a community, we have progressed despite this artificial boundary, not because of it.
Times are becoming more challenging for everyone, and municipalities are no different. With increased demands on municipalities, we need to work together. Town and County Councils seem to get that. We’re no longer seeing the Town-County division. Instead, we’re seeing proactive collaboration.
A lot of time has been spent repairing our relationship. When we served as Mayor and Warden, there were no joint council meetings. Our councils were working independently. Now, they happen quarterly, allowing our councillors to be in the same room, hear the same presentation and information, and have open conversations. But it’s still 17 elected officials in the same room, the same number as Halifax with a population of 420,000 (21 times larger than Antigonish Town and County combined).
Our recent success shouldn’t go unappreciated. It’s easy to debate why consolidation is important when both councils get along and are trying to make decisions together. We need to be taking politics out of it and thinking about what is best for our children and our community, today and in the future.
Today, the foresight of Town and County Councils has presented our community with a distinctive opportunity for generations to come.
It is an opportunity we are not likely to get again.
And it’s why we feel consolidation is an obvious choice.
Municipality of the County of Antigonish Warden: 1994- 2012
Town of Antigonish Mayor: 2008-2016