UARB hearing likely to result in maintaining MODG council size, small changes in district boundaries

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GUYSBOROUGH – No in-person or written submissions were presented to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) hearing on Aug. 25 regarding the Municipality of the District of Guysborough’s (MODG’s) application to confirm the number of councillors to be elected in the municipality.

According to the Municipal Government Act, municipalities must undertake a boundary review every eight years. The MODG has been moving through that process this winter and spring, hiring consulting agency Stantec to undertake the review, which included online surveys and public information sessions.

Following MODG’s acceptance in May of the Stantec review report and recommendation, which called for some changes to district boundaries but maintained the number of councillors (eight) on the MODG council, the municipality made its application to the UARB.

UARB member Roberta Clarke heard the MODG’s presentation, led by Stantec Senior Planner John Heseltine and MODG’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Shawn Andrews.

Heseltine presented the findings of the surveys, which resulted in a few changes to the municipal district boundaries, most notably the move of Durells Island from District 8 – the district that contains most of the former Town of Canso – to District 5, which is served by Deputy Warden Janet Peitzsche.

Following the presentation, Heseltine answered questions from Clarke and explained that, while the district boundary survey results showed more respondents favoured seven over eight districts, the survey on council size indicated a majority of respondents wanted eight or more councillors. The disparity between these two results, and the corresponding recommendation put forth by Stantec to maintain eight council seats, can be attributed to the much greater number of respondents to the number of councillors’ survey (143) in respect to the district boundary survey (69).

It was noted that all but one councillor, District 8’s Fin Armsworthy – the former Town of Canso – agreed with number of councillors and boundaries as set forward in the review.

Clarke asked Andrews if, in his opinion, a reduction of councillors would result in a savings for the municipality. He replied that, with the extra travel required for the remaining councillors, “In my opinion, it would be a wash.”

Regarding the possible change in district boundaries, Andrews told Clarke that any citizens affected would be notified on their tax bill and voter registration cards. The changes wouldn’t come into effect, if approved, until the next election in October 2024. Any changes to the tax bill, as in the example of moving from District 8 to District 5 – would not come into effect until the next election.

Clarke said she’d seen some information that questions had been raised about the maintenance of District 2, which was created in 1994 to represent a community of interest – the African Nova Scotian communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville and Upper Big Tracadie – due to its small population size. She asked Andrews for his thoughts on the district.

Andrews said council and staff felt the creation and maintenance of District 2 was a great asset to the municipality.

After hearing about the importance of the designation of District 2, Clarke asked about representation of other distinct groups in the MODG, for example Acadians. Andrews replied that District 6, represented by Warden Vernon Pitts, naturally encompassed the Acadian communities.

Clarke welcomed Councillor Mary Desmond to speak of her experience and her district, District 2, the only designated African Nova Scotia municipal council seat in the province.

Councillor Desmond told the hearing, “I am very proud to be the councillor for District 2, the African Nova Scotian district, because our community has been underrepresented for years and the residents of our community are the descents of the Black Loyalist…I am very proud that the Municipality of the District of Guysborough made a special seat. I didn’t really realize how important it was until I became a councillor.”

Clarke asked Desmond if she had anything else to say about the application to maintain the status quo of eight councillors and Desmond said that council worked well together and, “If things are working well, why change it.”

Upon conclusion of the hearing, Clarke said she would reserve judgement at this time but anticipated the MODG’s application would be approved. A decision is expected in approximately one month’s time.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal