Right in the Centre - Cooperation is the key


By Ken Waddell 

The Neepawa Banner

The political landscape of rural Manitoba has been permanently shaken up. The amalgamation of some municipalities has caused a lot of grief and concern. It was forced upon Manitobans by a provincial government that is at best rudderless and at worst manipulative.

The question as to why municipal amalgamation was forced  is still a mystery. The province of Manitoba has complete jurisdiction over the municipalities at the whim of the minister of inter-governmental affairs. For years, the ministers have been content to travel faithfully to the twice a year municipal meetings and mouth platitudes about working together for the betterment of Manitoba. Sometimes they were believable and sometimes it was just platitudes. Then in 2012, Minister Ron Lemieux dropped the bombshell that municipalities under 1,000 people would have to amalgamate. No warning, no consultation, just do it.  Both Lemieux and his successor, Stan Struthers have mangled some answers about modernization and some cost savings.

None of their answers made sense.

The only reason that makes any sense, if in fact there was any reason to force municipalities to amalgamate, is that rural municipalities are almost all represented in the provincial legislature by Progressive Conservatives. By throwing in the amalgamation bombshell, the NDP pretty much diverted any concerted effort by rural people, by municipalities or by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) to point out the faults of the NDP. Even the AMM couldn’t bring itself to oppose amalgamation in any real or meaningful way because the municipalities are so joined at the hip with the province. When it was suggested that a boycott of discussions be implemented, it was refused because. “We have too many ongoing discussions on various issues with the province.” That’s code for the province can shut off the funding tap if we don’t play nice.

So AMM played nice and the municipalities scurried around looking for amalgamation partners. Some of the partnerships made sense. Some are simply ridiculous.

Rivers and Daly makes sense. Rapid City and its surrounding partners makes sense. McCreary’s hook up makes sense, so does the one at Ste. Rose. Other places didn’t make any sense and it could be years or decades before any sense is made out of some of the other arrangements. For North Cypress  not to join with 50-year-partner Carberry made no sense. For North Cypress to join with Langford makes even less sense. 

For Neepawa not to have a strong partnership with Rosedale, Langford and Lansdowne, perhaps even Glenella, makes no sense. The lack of cooperation in the Neepawa area is really very sad. Rosedale and Langford want and need municipal water. Without amalgamation, it may take decades to happen. By that time, many residential and industrial opportunities will have been missed. Neepawa makes whimpering noises about wanting more industry to balance off the huge dependency on HyLife and yet there’s no progress on  that file. Obtaining land for development in Neepawa has taken forever. Acquiring the CN land took nearly 30 years and even now, it’s so slow to develop that it’s painful to watch. Drying paint moves faster.

What the Neepawa area needs is a huge influx of investment capital, most of it private capital. HyLife invested well in excess of $70 million, we see the impact of a concentrated, coordinated and a fairly well planned business effort. Except for the Prendiville investment in the RM of Langford with Prairie Forest Products, the HyLife investment pretty much stands alone. 

Neepawa and the surrounding RMs are partners whether they want to admit it or not. Hopefully, after the October 22 election, the petty differences and personal agendas will get set aside and real progress for the area can be achieved. Amalgamation would have made it a lot easier but that opportunity  was lost because certain very stubborn personalities got in the way. Cooperation is the only other available avenue we have. Anyone who stands in the way of that much needed cooperation will cause harm in the community.