Antigonish

Testimonials

Doug & Debby Ives,
Town of Antigonish

We firmly support the proposed consolidation, feeling that the Antigonish regional municipality or whatever its ultimate designation, will have greater prosperity than by maintaining the status quo.

Read Full Statement

Having had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Boucher following the October 20 vote in favour of consolidation, we were able to ask questions about and obtain answers to the concerns we had both about the process and reasons/rationale to proceed with consolidation.

While the future cannot be predicted, we know that is better to look forward than behind. The past, though, should not be forgotten since it is from previous experiences that we can learn how to be better, both as individuals and as residents of a community.

We firmly support the proposed consolidation, feeling that the Antigonish regional municipality or whatever its ultimate designation, will have greater prosperity than by maintaining the status quo.

Carl Val Chisholm,
Former Mayor, Town of Antigonish

I am in total agreement to consolidate at this time so all people from Antigonish town and county can benefit as one Antigonish. After having heard and read some of the comments about consolidation I feel very strongly that going forward we will all be better off as one, The Municipality of Antigonish.

Read Full Statement

I am writing to you both to congratulate you and all your councillors for taking on this major challenge called consolidation. No one said or thought it would be easy. As former mayor of the town for eight years I can assure you that there are always tough decisions to be made when you are representing the people whether from the town or the county. You were all elected by the people to make those tough decisions. Those decisions will never please 100% of the people you represent but when you make them they are in the best interest of all.

As for the topic at hand, consolidation, it is a decision which will have a lasting effect on our community. I am in total agreement to consolidate at this time so all people from Antigonish town and county can benefit as one Antigonish. After having heard and read some of the comments about consolidation I feel very strongly that going forward we will all be better off as one, The Municipality of Antigonish.

I have looked at both financial statements, along with the respective tax rates, including area rates, and I only see good reasons for both municipalities to become one. As a former resident of the county and more recently the town, I can honestly say that whenever I was asked where I was from I always answered Antigonish; never the Town of Antigonish or the County of Antigonish. I would like to mention a few events that have happened over the last number of years that were not in 100% agreement by all residents.

  1. The People’s Place library – When people heard how much it was going to cost, not all people were in favor. Now it is the most used library in the province, based on per capita, and everyone speaks highly of it.
  2. Antigonish Skate Park – Again not everyone was in favor but just drive by on a sunny day and see how many people, both young and old, are enjoying it.
  3. Wind Farm – The wind farm that the town is part off was not something that everyone thought was a good idea, even some town staff and councillors. Today everyone is thankful for the results it has given the town.

I am sure there are others but I hope you get my point.

In closing I am asking everyone to please way out the pros and cons for EACH municipality and I am sure that the positives far out way the negatives to join as one and become The Municipality of Antigonish. You were all voted in to make decisions, tough decisions, on behalf of your constituents. Let’s make one, the right one, vote for consolidation and let us move forward together in a positive way. I am sure the people will not be disappointed for years and centuries to come.

Bill Fraser, 
Antigonish County Resident

I also see it as a preemptive move before higher levels of government decide to dictate how local governments will be structured and administered. I am fully supportive of this process and the anticipated outcome.

Read Full Statement

I want to commend you both and your respective councils for initiating this consolidation process. For my part, I can only envision benefits for residents and businesses in both Town and County.

And what better time than when both governments enjoy healthy balance sheets and a working relationship the likes of which we have never seen before.

I also see it as a preemptive move before higher levels of government decide to dictate how local governments will be structured and administered.

I am fully supportive of this process and the anticipated outcome.

I might add that while there is reference to “economic development” in the Guiding Principle #1, it would be my hope that a consolidated local government would see regional growth as a primary objective.

Again, my congratulations to you both. You have my full support.

Joe and MJ MacDonald,
Antigonish

For us, Consolidation is timely as it provides a current and futuristic context. We have read the “Fact Sheets” and understand clearly the directions proposed. I have also seen some of the rhetoric on social media sites that quite frankly it is not factual.

Read Full Statement

Many of you know me and MJ either through my work at StFX and MJ at the Casket and likely more through our extensive volunteer work within our community. From my many and varied roles at StFX where for over 40 years I worked closely with Mayors and Wardens and Councilor’s and staff on many StFX related projects to the Terry Fox Run, the Antigonish Roadrunners Club, the Antigonish Area Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce, XFM, St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation and the Antigonish Highland Games and other organizations. For 5 years, as Dean of Students, I sat on the Antigonish Police and Licensing Commission board.

Why do I share these many engagements? Well, quite simply, I chose many years ago to make Antigonish home because of the people who live here and the career and volunteer opportunities offered by this community. Antigonish is a special place that has so much to offer its citizens and its citizens have so much to offer to this community. I have lived in Lanark, on Old South River Road, on West Street and in St. Joseph’s. Within each of these communities ‘I lived there’ and, at the same time, in Antigonish, and I/we continue to live in Antigonish! In my travels, when asked I say I am from “Antigonish”. Town and County boundaries, wherever they exist, have no defining features to me and MJ.

For us, Consolidation is timely as it provides a current and futuristic context. We have read the “Fact Sheets” and understand clearly the directions proposed. I have also seen some of the rhetoric on social media sites that quite frankly it is not factual.

Thank you for your time and please stay the course.

Jack Beaton,
Lower South River

The Antigonish community needs a strong, united voice as it negotiates with provincial and federal officials to find ways to improve the lives of residents. The confusion and duplication resulting from two municipal units representing the same community is not helpful.

Read Full Statement

I commend both councils for the level of cooperation that has been evident, and for having the courage and foresight to bring the issue of consolidation forward for consideration.

The Antigonish community needs a strong, united voice as it negotiates with provincial and federal officials to find ways to improve the lives of residents. The confusion and duplication resulting from two municipal units representing the same community is not helpful.

Both councils were elected to make decisions. You were not elected to defer the difficult decisions to others.

I urge both councils to decide whether or not to proceed with consolidation. You have taken the time and made the effort to get a broad range of opinions from residents, and now it is time to carefully consider this information and decide how to move forward.

A plebiscite is a poor alternative to good governance.

Ron MacGillivray,
MacGillivray Group of Companies

Halifax Regional Municipality was proactive merging in 1996 and has since flourished while maintaining its great Maritime culture. If Halifax can successfully govern four-hundred-thousand residents with one council, Antigonish can govern its twenty-thousand residents with one council.

Read Full Statement

As a 46-year businessperson in both Antigonish Town and County and a substantial tax contributor to each, I wish to express my position of support for the merging of the Antigonish councils.

This merger allows the twenty-thousand Antigonish residents greater provincial and federal representation and leverage when handling resources.

The timing has never been better to merge, with each council entering in a position of current financial stability. StFX’s continued investment, coupled with a new twin-lane Trans Canada highway provides a once-in-a-lifetime chance to usher growth and secure our future, together.

In my eight years chairing the board of the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home, I worked with board members from both the Town and County. I have witnessed how successful we are when Town and County operate as one.

That both the Mayor and Warden of Antigonish put the needs of their citizens first and support the council merger speaks volumes.

Halifax Regional Municipality was proactive merging in 1996 and has since flourished while maintaining its great Maritime culture. If Halifax can successfully govern four-hundred-thousand residents with one council, Antigonish can govern its twenty-thousand residents with one council.

Councils are empowered to merge and Antigonish councils have a record of good decision-making. Complete the decision to merge Town and County as one and lead Antigonish to a prosperous future.

Sherman England,
Antigonish

I fully appreciate the concern of some, as changes often come with fear and some interpretation. Staying the same is often comfortable, but what is creating comfort today and where we will be in 10 years are two entirely different situations. To have two distinct municipal governments to provide services to our small area / population is not likely going to serve anyone well as we look ahead.

Read Full Statement

To begin, I want to offer my congratulations once again to both you and your fellow councillors for exploring the concept of consolidation in Antigonish. To have two separate municipalities that are so intertwined in all aspects of our community life needs to be questioned. Over the past 34 years I have lived in both the present-day town and county and I often questioned why two (2) local municipal governments were needed to provide essentially the same services – with a dual set of infrastructure – to the approximate 20,000 residents who reside within the 1500 sq/km that make up the present municipal units.

I fully appreciate the concern of some, as changes often come with fear and some interpretation. Staying the same is often comfortable, but what is creating comfort today and where we will be in 10 years are two entirely different situations. To have two distinct municipal governments to provide services to our small area / population is not likely going to serve anyone well as we look ahead.

It is important that we operate as a larger single municipal unit that can plan and adapt as required to opportunities / issues that we will most certainly face. One municipal government makes sense, as we will be stronger together vs. the alternative. Too often we hear about the loss of identity – from what I witnessed from previous consolidations in our province each distinct community has remained and the same will hold true for all the communities that exist within the present boundaries of the existing municipal units. As my former colleague – Councillor Cormier – would explain, he became involved in local politics to advocate for the consolidation that is now being explored.

I wish both you and your fellow councils the greatest success as you explore consolidation and all it has to offer. As avoiding change and staying comfortable in the short term does not ensure continued growth and success in the long term.

Steve Scannell,
Antigonish

Any good councillor would be poorly suited to govern if they ignored the interests of the people they represent, but I argue they would also be poorly suited for the task if the will of the public was the only factor that influenced their decision. Community input is always one of many factors that must be weighed – it is rarely the only one. Politics, even at the local level, is complex and messy.

Read Full Statement

I think it is worth taking a moment to catch our breath and reflect on the recent decision of the Municipal Councils of the Town and County of Antigonish to consolidate. Lost in the drama at the respective meetings of October 20th when the final decision was made is an understanding of what it means to exercise political leadership in this context.

The leadership discussion has been overshadowed by the argument that the failure to hold a plebiscite on the issue stifled the voice of the residents and undermined democratic ideals. This is simply a matter of perspective. I, for one, disagree that this decision and the process leading up to it was anti-democratic; in fact, it is the essence of democracy in action executed through strong political leadership by our local officials.

The position supporting a plebiscite assumes that the residents are willing and able to determine what is best for the future of the community. It would be unfair for me to doubt the wisdom of the public or entrench myself on either side of the public debate respecting the future of the community. There are very good positions that support either side of the discussion, and where you fall ultimately is shaped by your interpretation of the evidence and your wishes for what you want your community to look like in the future.

Residents are certainly able to determine what is best for Antigonish and should have a voice in the process, but a vote is a very crude way of assessing how people feel about such a difficult issue. A vote simply gauges citizen opinions in black or white terms; it cannot ask why. Consolidation is not a black or white issue. It is a topic that requires comprehending and balancing a range of complex and competing needs and interests. A vote that boils the whole issue down to a binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is simply insufficient for this purpose – understanding the why matters.

Apart from being a blunt tool to gauge collective interests, voter turnout is notoriously low in municipal elections and special votes. Referendums and plebiscites – regardless of their perceived or real potential community impact – do not draw people to the polls in droves as community-minded people may hope for or expect. Pictou County has been among the latest communities to experience a vote on a municipal merger, and only 38% of their community showed up to lend their voice to the issue. This, despite a very detailed analysis that took over five years to complete, and which came after a recommendation from the Utility and Review Board recommended the amalgamation as holding “significant positive implications” – social and financial – for the community.

What is also overlooked in the discussion on a plebiscite is that in this context it is non-binding. In the end, the respective Councils would be tasked with making the final decision. Given that a vote is a very imprecise tool that fails to adequately capture the complexity of the issue or how one may feel about it to inform a final decision for Council, preference ought to be given to public consultation to collect this information from residents for an issue of such significance.

The process, and principles governing the process, were agreed to unanimously by each Council and endorsed by provincial officials who already carried out a similar exercise in other areas of the province. It was so agreed to because it allowed greater flexibility for each Council as they explore and negotiate their options – more so than the rigidity of the process outlined of the Municipal Government Act. The information gathering from residents proceeded as an extensive series of consultations and public meetings, included a range of ways to provide input (such as email and telephone), and made all information freely available to all residents in the community, as explained in the subsequent reports.

No recent project in our community has embraced such consultative zeal, and credit ought to be given to all Councillors and staff who committed their time outside of regular working hours to organize and attend these events and meet with citizens face to face to talk about such a contentious issue. They worked tirelessly to consider resident concerns and positions and have tried to understand all dimensions of the issue – to understand the why.

In this context, not holding a plebiscite is far from being anti-democratic. This level of engagement is precisely what we ought to expect from our municipal councillors on a regular basis in their quest to understand our interests and shape our respective communities. Regardless of whether you support the outcome of the decision, it is difficult for me to see how this has failed to provide a voice to all interested residents on the issue.

It is important at this stage to ask what we expect from our elected officials. How do we gauge whether we have been well represented?

I think it comes down to how you view the role of political representation, generally. There are two predominate models at play in representative democracies: the delegate model and the trustee model. An elected official operating as a ‘delegate’ is expected to be a mirror reflecting the wishes and demands of their constituents. Such a perspective suggests our leaders ought to make no independent decisions for themselves; they are simply expected to do as the people command. Conversely, an elected official operating as a ‘trustee’ acts on behalf of their constituents interests, but also uses their knowledge, experience, available evidence, and integrity to make the best possible decision. This is the truer expression of how our representative system works.

The reality is local government largely operates on a trustee model. We elect local officials because we trust them to make good decisions on our behalf; we vote them out if they don’t. Councillors are tasked on a regular basis to make decisions that have many competing positions on what ought to be done and they must weigh a variety of competing interests – which is further complicated by the fact that these competing interests are coming directly from our friends and neighbors. Oftentimes, these decisions may be made with imperfect information available, and like any decision in life they can never be made with 100% certainty.

Any good councillor would be poorly suited to govern if they ignored the interests of the people they represent, but I argue they would also be poorly suited for the task if the will of the public was the only factor that influenced their decision. Community input is always one of many factors that must be weighed – it is rarely the only one. Politics, even at the local level, is complex and messy.

The information for the Antigonish consolidation decision was informed, not only by community input, but by past experiences from communities who have gone through this process before, such as Windsor/West Hants. It is worth noting, too, that in their own assessments (Link) – they emerged on the other side better for it in the long-term despite similar concerns raised at the time of the decision (Link). It is very fair to say that our councillors worked intelligently with the research, case studies, and general information they had – and it is as well-sourced as you can possess on this issue. If it seemed that the information skewed positive, it is because there is a lot of evidence that supports positive outcomes when municipalities merge – specifically, I should add, when two municipalities come as strong partners to the table and can negotiate a better way of delivering service.

With all of this under consideration, I believe that the drama that unfolded obscured an appreciation and understanding of what a good councillor ought to do when faced with the question of consolidation. My perspective is that a push for a vote as the sole determinant of the outcome gives elected officials space to abdicate their representative responsibilities and shy away from the expectation we place on them to be capable of demonstrating decisive, informed leadership when confronted with challenging issues. I support residents having a voice in the process. I feel that all councillors – regardless of how they voted – heard those voices.

The decision was always going to be highly emotional and controversial, and that is precisely why it makes good sense to trust our councillors to make the final call. They have, by virtue of their positions, the passion for the job, knowledge of the inner workings of the municipality as an administrative entity as well as its broader community dynamics, and (perhaps much more importantly) the understanding of what lies on the horizon. The issue itself requires a careful balancing of the emotional aspects that accompany such a question with the technical aspects of understanding how communities are governed and managed to achieve long-term sustainability. Whether you are comfortable admitting it, that is a role that a councillor is best positioned to satisfy. That is what we elect them to do. And because it is not black and white, it is an unenviable – and at times thankless – job. It is the job of residents to share their input with their councillors to ensure it factors into their calculus. I feel that has been accomplished.

The current councillors around the table were placed in these roles by the residents because we trusted their disposition, their knowledge, their experience, their civic mindedness, as well as their passion for ensuring our community remains a vibrant place to live, work, and raise a family. They have delivered. The past eight-plus years have seen increased cooperation between our Councils, increased community investments completed through partnership and cost-sharing, and a growing list of shared services that serve more practical, cost-effective purposes.

It has been a period of positivity and success for our community because the respective Councils applied a community-wide lens to their decision-making – not a Town versus County mindset. It all boils down to leadership, and such a period of prosperity and good will should not be taken for granted that it can be easily repeated.

What evidence do we now have to accuse our councillors of renouncing this perspective? I suggest that there is no reason or evidence at all to assume that all councillors have suddenly given up on our community. Our councillors have been consistent in their principles and approach and are who they have always been before the vote – people who, together, make up a collective body trying to make decisions with the best long-term interests of the community in mind.

Again, politics is complex and messy. Those that voted in favor of the decision care just as much about the community as those who voted against; all weighed the information and made a decision they felt was best for the community. Moreover, the process has exhibited the essence of what we want from our democratic institutions: the ability to meet face to face with our leaders to tell them exactly what we think and then entrust them to make the best possible decision they can with all the information and inputs available to them.  That is how the system is supposed to work; that is how it has worked for this decision regardless of whether you like the outcome.

All councillors were placed in challenging and uncomfortable positions throughout this process, and on October 20th they were asked to make a very hard decision about the future of the community they represent. To even address such a controversial question forces them to place community interests about their own. That is exactly what they all did. What more could be asked of our leaders?

I’ll close by saying that it is heartening to see our Councils rise to the occasion, and again – as they have in the past, and regardless of how they voted – demonstrate forward-thinking leadership that focuses on the long-term best interests of the Antigonish community.

As the dust settles, Antigonish is bracing for a new future as a single municipal unit to better reflect what we have always known to be true: that we are one community. Rather than quibbling over outcomes, embrace the outcome and be focused on building for the future.

Let us give our respective Councils the benefit of doubt based on their recent pattern of actions, the positive outcomes they achieved, and the commitment they have demonstrated to always place the greater community good at the core of their decisions. I, for one, have full confidence that Antigonish is – and will always be – well-served by their leadership and I’m excited about our future.