Some of the town councils in the Coast of Bays are now operating without a full slate of councillors, and as the 2013 municipal elections are approaching we will need more young people to step up to the plate next time around.
Many of our councillors too have been in the political arena for quite a while and have provided the area with a great service but they may feel it’s time for some younger people to come on board.
Two key questions need to be asked in all of this – Why are we having trouble getting or keeping full councils today? What can be done about this for the future?
There might be many answers to the first question such as work and family commitments. However, a key reason may be that councils today are expected to do much more than a council was expected to do even five years ago.
Today councils have to complete an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP), an Emergency Preparedness Plan and the Public Service Accounting Board audit. Granted, each council staff does a fair bit of this work but the onus is on council to have the work completed in specific time periods.
Councils also have to be involved in economic planning for their communities today. At least one council in the area has an economic development officer but many don’t, and this work is passed on to councilors and or staff members.
With the dismantling of the Coast of Bays Corporation that will end by April of 2013, some of the work and help provided by that association to councils will now be downloaded to councils and their staffs.
The point is that more work and more planning are expected of councils today than even just a few short years ago and the load doesn’t seem to be getting any lighter.
Another big reason that many people don’t want to get involved in the municipal political game is that our infrastructure is falling apart in some towns. This is not the fault of any present council – it’s just that many of our water/sewer systems have been in place for a long time and is now in need or repair or upgrading in some cases.
As our population continues to decrease in the Coast of Bays so does the tax base in our communities and these problems get harder and harder to fix.
Councils too will have to make some strong decisions in the coming years with the Regional Waste Management plan coming in place. Residents will end up paying to take their garbage and waste to Norris Arm so that fee has to be added to an already burdened taxpayer.
It’s often a thankless role that many people in our towns just don’t want to take on.
So, what about the future? How can we provide local government for the Coast of Bays going forward?
As noted above, our population base is shrinking. In 1981 there were 11,126 people in the Coast of Bays. Today, according to the 2011 census, we have a population of 7,239. And that decrease will continue to some degree in the future.
Our high schools have a combined graduation class of at least 100 students each year. Many of these graduates will leave the Coast of Bays and will not return. Yes, some people are moving back here to live but with out-migration and people passing on, our population will continue to decline.
In Nova Scotia they have a regional type of government called counties.
The County of Antigonish has 10 districts that take in about 14 communities. Each district has a warden at large who is responsible for his/her area. The 10 wardens provide local government in this area for about 15,000 people based at the municipal administrative building in Antigonish.
So, with our population of just over 7,000 people, and a shrinking population at that, why can’t we have regional types of government here in the Coast of Bays? We could divide the area into districts and then have one or two representatives from each to form a strong council for the entire area.
We already have a Joint Mayors’ Committee who now meet about eight times a year to discuss issues related to the entire area. A regional council might not be so far fetched after all.
Another solution to getting people involved in councils is to offer an adequate remuneration package for councilors. Some councils do have an honorarium system in place now but the reward is very small for all the work and effort put into the role.
Anyway, the above points are food for thought that we’ll just pass out for consideration.
Anyone having any strong feelings about this idea may feel free to write a response to this editorial.