Officials in Cape Breton Regional Municipality say a dispute with the Nova Scotia government over a proposed new funding agreement just got personal.
They say the province has tried turning other municipalities against CBRM and the mayor is demanding an apology.
The latest spat stems from a letter Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr sent to all municipalities in the province, except CBRM, in which he asks the administrators to contact their colleagues in CBRM and encourage them to agree to a new funding deal.
CBRM councillors called it "unheard of," "unprofessional" and "unconscionable."
CBRM's chief administrative officer Marie Walsh said she has never seen a government minister lobby municipal staff.
She said that goes against the usual practice of politicians speaking to politicians and bureaucrats speaking to bureaucrats.
'Divide and conquer,' says Walsh
"They are trying to, I guess, divide and conquer, to get municipalities against other municipalities," Walsh said. "I've never seen a government, a minister, reach out to the administrative staff. It's just not protocol. It's disrespectful. It's unprofessional.
"I was a little bit shocked, to be honest, but honestly, the disrespect that we've been getting from this government, it shouldn't have surprised me, because it hasn't been good."
CBRM has been embroiled in a fight over the province's proposed new funding offer, saying it will benefit other municipalities, but at CBRM's expense.
In a letter to municipal administrators on the weekend, Lohr said the bill containing provisions of the new funding agreement has ground to a halt in the legislature due to "loud and persistent" objections from CBRM and the opposition parties.
He said the province asked CBRM for a council vote on whether they supported the proposed new deal or would rather pursue a municipal charter.
Lohr said it was "a reasonable ask — to ensure the decision represented the will of the majority of the council — particularly given CBRM's recent history of division."
However, he said, CBRM never said one way or the other what it wanted.
Minister suggests contacting opposition MLAs, too
The minister ends the letter suggesting municipalities that support the government bill should also contact opposition MLAs to promote the merits of the deal.
CBRM has been pursuing a municipal charter from the province for years, but the mayor and councillors say they were told by the PC government to put that on hold, because the new deal would address its financial concerns.
Mayor Amanda McDougall replied to the minister's requests for a council vote, saying Lohr should meet with council this month to discuss the details.
CBRM councillors have met twice in the last week and have continued to support the mayor's stance on the proposed new funding arrangement from the province. (Tom Ayers/CBC)
Meanwhile, council has met at least twice since then and the councillors have unanimously backed the mayor's position.
McDougall is now furious and said Tuesday after a council meeting that she would be writing a letter to Lohr that afternoon.
"It will be curt, it will be very frank and I will be asking for an apology from the minister towards my CAO," she said.
"That letter was unacceptable, beyond unprofessional and really just so manipulative."
Going to Halifax to press their case
McDougall said she and several councillors will be going to the provincial legislature later this week to address the law amendments committee to fight for a better funding deal from the government.
"Obviously, now more than ever, our voice needs to be heard right now in Halifax," she said.
"We are ... quite frankly on our own and we have to fight for our own and it's not about the individual councillors and myself and my staff members in this building. This fight is for our community."
Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr says it's a normal part of the legislative process to write letters to drum up support for a bill. (David Laughlin/CBC)
Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr was unapologetic Tuesday afternoon.
He said it's a normal part of the legislative process to send letters and drum up support for a bill and he did not need to include CBRM.
"We had sent multiple letters to CBRM that we didn't send to everybody else, either, so I think this is just the way this plays out," Lohr said.
The minister said CBRM was excluded for obvious reasons.
"Clearly, everyone knows where this lies," Lohr said. "CBRM has an issue with it and as far as we know, the rest by and large don't."
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