Shippagan or Île-de-Lamèque? Residents await judge's decision on new local boundary

·4 min read
Residents of a rural area on the Acadian Peninsula want to be part of Shippagan and not the new entity Île-de-Lamèque. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Residents of a rural area on the Acadian Peninsula want to be part of Shippagan and not the new entity Île-de-Lamèque. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Residents of a rural area on the Acadian Peninsula will have to wait to find out whether their challenge of new local government boundaries will succeed in moving them from one municipality to another.

The residents of Chiasson-Savoy were in Court of Queen's Bench in Bathurst on Wednesday hoping a judge would overturn the decision to make their community part of the new town of Île-de-Lamèque.

The province's original plan in a local government reform white paper last November was to make them part of the new municipality of Shippagan.

But in February, Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain decided instead that Chiasson-Savoy should be part of Île-de-Lamèque, then known in the province's reform plans as Entity 15.

In court the residents' lawyer Marc Cormier argued that Allain's decision wasn't reasonable because the period in which he changed his mind, during an 11-day period in February, wasn't long enough for him to consider the issues or conduct a required feasibility study.

"We have to ask: what happened? What kind of study was done?" Cormier told Justice Danie Roy.

"Where is the study that says, 'No, it shouldn't be with Shippagan, it should be with Entity 15?"

Justice reserves decision

Justice Danie Roy did not rule Wednesday and reserved her decision until later.

Chiasson-Savoy resident Gastien Godin said he was satisfied that he and his neighbours got to make their case.

"Our lawyers have done a wonderful job to show, to demonstrate, that this process does not respect the basic principle of natural justice," he said.

At the centre of the residents' argument is an email sent by the local service district's consultative committee chair Steven Cormier to Allain at 10:55 a.m. on Feb. 11.

Until Feb. 4, Allain was sticking to the original plan to add Chiasson-Savoy to Shippagan. But when he received the email from Cormier indicating the committee preferred Lamèque, he quickly forwarded their email to his deputy minister, declaring, "timing is everything."

It turned out, that Steven Cormier was describing a decision that hadn't been made yet.

Minutes of the LSD committee's Feb. 11 meeting show the meeting actually began later the same day, at 7:10 p.m. —  more than eight hours after Cormier's email to the minister.

"[At the time of the email to the minister] there'd been no meeting," lawyer Marc Cormier told Justice Danie Roy.  "A meeting is held that night to validate the decision in the email. That just doesn't hold up, Madame Justice."

Allain could have ensured the consultation was "properly done" by asking the local committee to hold a plebiscite, the judge was told.

Cormier said Allain was taking his cues from the consultative committee, which had not done its job properly.

But the province's lawyer, Nathalie Thibault, argued that whatever the process followed with the committee, all the facts "were not before the minister when he made the decision." Therefore, Allain acted reasonably based on the facts he had at the time.

Thibault said that when Allain found out about the committee's actual wishes, he took several days to think about the situation before deciding to stick with the plan to add Chiasson-Savoy to  Île-de-Lamèque, even after the Chiasson residents raised their concerns.

Community vote

A community meeting voted 62 per cent for being part of Shippagan, but Thibault said those voting that way represented only 23 per cent of the entire local service district population.

That means the decision by Allain was reasonable, she argued, and legal precedent is that courts should not interfere with government decisions unless there's a serious legal error or a breach of constitutional rights.

"The decision is reasonable, it's rational, it's justifiable," she said.

The province also argued that Allain's decision can't be reviewed by the courts at all because it was only a recommendation to cabinet, not the official cabinet order to adopt the new local government boundaries.

That only happened last week, when cabinet passed an order-in-council adopting the boundaries, which will take effect Jan. 1.

Jacques Poitras/CBC
Jacques Poitras/CBC

Chiasson-Savoy is on Lamèque Island but is closer to Shippagan than to the existing village of Lamèque.

Children in the local service district cross the bridge to go to school in Shippagan, and the community has helped fund the town's fire and pool services, which residents use.

Godin argues that his property taxes could increase and he may have to pay more for house insurance because Lamèque's fire station will be farther from his home.

But provincial lawyer Mylène Hendriks argued Wednesday that no evidence of that was part of the application.

The provincial lawyers also fought back against other elements of the residents' case, including a Feb. 7 briefing note to Allain that recommended Chiasson-Savoy stay with Shippagan.

Thibault noted it also said moving the LSD into the new Lamèque municipality would "not have a significant impact on the viability of both projects."