New legislation introduced by Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Tony Clement last Thursday will give voters more opportunity to show their teeth in local politics.
“It gives the people more input as to what they want to see,” said Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon.
If passed, the bill would allow municipalities to hold referenda—the results of which councils will be obliged to follow.
The referenda would require “yes” or “no” answers, and could only be issued within the municipality’s jurisdiction. The goal of the bill is to bring accountability to the referendum process and prevent ineffective ones from wasting taxpayers’ money.
Currently, municipalities are not bound by referendum results.
The new bill also could affect topical issues such as restructuring. “What it really is going to do is get more of an input from people on amalgamation,” noted Mayor Witherspoon.
“As long as it’s 50 plus one percent, it will be binding,” he remarked.
The new bill also would give the minister more discretion when defining an area for a restructuring commission. Currently, when a municipality requests a commission, the minister can order only for that area or a larger one.
The new legislation will allow for a smaller area to be considered.
The bill also would eliminate a provision in the municipal act that allows 75 voters—or 10 percent of a constituency—to petition a minister to appoint a restructuring commission, leaving that up to the municipal government of the area in question.
For residents of some municipalities, the changes come too late. In Nestor Falls, where a number of people vehemently opposed being amalgamated with Sioux Narrows, a commissioner’s report expected later this month will be completed before the bill is passed.
“[The commission] would be coming down on the 26th so I don’t think this legislation would help,” said Leona Forsyth, chair of the Nestor Falls Local Services Board.