OAK BAY – To say people in St. David Parish are passionate about the topic of amalgamation would be an understatement.
A meeting last Thursday with nearly 60 residents in attendance saw people continuing to discuss the issues for another 90 minutes after the meeting was scheduled to end. The St. David Parish Local Service District (LSD), which will become Ward 3 in Entity 57 of Regional Service Commission (RSC) 10 Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission, held a meeting to discuss amalgamation and seek interest from residents to run for office. The proposed legal name is Entity 57 Municipal District of St. Stephen.
The meeting was supposed to run for an hour, ending at 8 p.m., however it didn’t officially adjourn until nearly 8:30 with people continuing to talk and discuss the issues until close to 9:30.
The people of the LSD are overwhelmingly against amalgamation. A poll cited by LSD chair Berton Stewart suggested more than 85 per cent of the people are opposed.
Many are concerned about “the town having control over the rural areas,” said Stewart and “passing bylaws that are detrimental to our lifestyle.”
“The main concern most people have is the town using the rural area to fund their leisure activities, as in the (Garcelon) Civic Center.”
Stewart explained that people are concerned about their taxes being raised to pay for the civic centre, about an area of 4,500 people making decisions for an area of 1,500 people.
“It’s not a democratic process for sure.”
Resident and LSD committee member Earle Eastman agreed with the concerns laid out by Stewart and said it’s “all about the taxes and our lifestyle.”
“The town right now owns the majority vote. If we don’t get, between Ward 1 and Ward 3, the mayor’s position then they can override anything we decide. There’ll be our four councillors against their four councillors and if the town has the mayor then they’ve got the majority vote,” said Eastman.
Stewart had to call the meeting to order a few times as people began talking over one another, the discussion getting somewhat heated at times.
Eastman and Stewart are also concerned about the way the process has been pushed onto local communities, saying that they have had no input into the process, or planning. They feel that it has been an ‘our way or the highway’ process.
Stewart indicated that they never had the opportunity to have input into the process and that the province took advantage of COVID to hold meetings over Zoom rather than face-to-face and that any comments to be made on a Zoom meeting had to pass through a facilitator. If the facilitator didn’t like the question, it wouldn’t get asked and they’d be locked out of the meeting.
“They never met in buildings like this,” said Stewart, about Oak Bay’s town hall.
“They took advantage of the COVID situation to lock everything down. We never were able to have a face-to-face meeting or talk to any official because of COVID,” suggested Eastman.
Even getting onto the Zoom meetings was difficult because of the inadequacies of rural internet access, Eastman explained.
Stewart said he was “surprised” to see St. Croix MLA Kathy Bockus at the meeting because “she absolutely refused to meet with us two years ago when we said we were putting up a fight against this.”
Bockus fielded several questions from angry meeting attendees and at one point was called a CFAer (come from away-er), despite having lived in the area for 27 years. Several of the questions directed at Bockus were based on rumour and conspiracy theories about how the provincial government was trying to take over local municipalities.
Eastman made it clear that there are rules and procedures in place for how the election is to be run and those have to be followed.
“There’s a lot of people out here that are just getting bits of information and rumours,” said Eastman, “and if you do your research you can cut a lot of that out.”
At the conclusion of the meeting Stewart announced he would be running for mayor and Eastman put his name forward to run for council.
In remarks emailed after the meeting, Bockus said she was, “encouraged to see so many people there expressing an interest in the future of our community.
“I hope a number of people consider running for council in all the wards to provide a balanced and effective municipal government.”