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Greenstone ruling may impact other amalgamations

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A court ruling that dissolved the Township of Greenstone in the Geraldton area could have an impact on future municipal restructuring—and may affect townships that have already amalgamated, including one in the Rainy River District.

Ian Smith, regional manager for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing’s district office in Thunder Bay, said part of the Ontario divisional court Justice John O’Driscoll’s ruling Dec. 31 was that the Greenstone amalgamation didn’t comply with a regulation under the Municipal Act.

Smith explained according to that regulation (143-96), Justice O’Driscoll interpreted it to mean a new municipality can’t be created from existing unincorporated territory.

Lake of the Woods Township, created by the amalgamation of McCrosson-Tovell and Morson as of Jan. 1, will annex unincorporated territory effective Jan. 1, 1999, which includes some 30 properties.

If someone were to challenge that annexation in court, Smith admitted it “could be a problem.”

“That’s a precedent," he noted yesterday. "[And] that could have application elsewhere.”

But Lake of the Woods clerk Pat Giles pointed out a major difference—Lake of the Woods was a local creation while Greenstone (the amalgamation of Geraldton, Beardmore, Longlac, Nakina and some unincorporated territory) was the recommendation of a provincially-appointed commissioner.

“Theirs was forced,” Giles explained, stressing the amalgamation was voluntary with regards to Lake of the Woods Township.

“There’s a fairly significant difference,” agreed Smith.

The Township of Dawson, created last year made up of the former Atwood, Worthington, Blue, and Dilke townships, didn’t include any unincorporated territory.

“There was none because it looked like it was going to cost Dawson money to look after them,” Giles said.

Meanwhile, Smith isn’t expecting the court ruling will wreak much havoc on the Lake of the Woods amalgamation, or the some 200 across the province. Only five of those were the recommendations of commissions.

While any restructurings are open to judicial review, Smith stressed the court decision was based on other local factors as well, including:

onot enough consultation with the local aboriginal groups;

othe appearance of bias against the applicants; and

otoo heavy a government hand in the process.

Smith also stressed many people, including many lawyers, disagreed with Justice O’Driscoll’s interpretation of the Municipal Act.

Despite that, Smith said the ministry was looking to see if legislation needed to be changed, or if it should appeal the decision.

“But there hasn’t been any firm decisions on that yet,” he added, with the ministry needing to file its appeal within 15 days of the ruling.

In related news, now that the council of Greenstone has been kiboshed, Geraldton, Nakina, Longlac, and Beardmore will have to hold new elections.

Justice O’Driscoll ruled nomination day would be Jan. 29, with elections held 31 days after that.

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