Town disappointed with Municipal Government Act changes

PORT HAWKESBURY: Councillors in the Town of Port Hawkesbury are disappointed that controversial changes to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) have passed through the legislature so quickly.

On March 29, Bill 85 to amend Chapter 18 of the MGA received its third reading in legislature. Port Hawkesbury council has agreed to send a letter to the premier stating their concern with the changes.

The bill deals with the ability of Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) to sell or lease certain property at less than market value and enter into taxation agreements. The bill met with opposition from several municipalities, including the Municipality of the District of Guysborough, and the Town and County of Antigonish.

Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said council decided to write to the premier following a presentation by Strait Area Chamber of Commerce (SACC) executive director Amanda Mombourquette at council’s committee of the whole meeting on March 20.

“They are very much against Bill 85, because they feel that the MGA creates some consistency and a sense of fairness amongst all our municipalities, so that kind of creates a level playing field so that we are competing with the world and not competing with each other as municipalities,” she said following council’s regular monthly meeting on April 3.

Chisholm-Beaton said council was supportive of the SACC’s position, and agreed to urge the government to take time to consult with municipalities before approving the bill.

“But I guess it went faster than anticipated, so the letter that we are sending will be a post-bill response to it being passed,” she said.

During the April 3 meeting, councillor Trevor Boudreau said that he would like to have seen the letter expedited.

“Timing is everything and it’s unfortunate that this bill has passed so quickly,” he said. “These are things that are very important to the region and I think having that letter in before it got to second and third reading was important.”

During the monthly meeting, councillors shared a letter sent by Tim Gilfoy, CEO of the Strait of Canso Superport Corporation to the premier last month expressing his concerns with the changes.

“This proposed amendment creates an uneven playing field with respect to attracting industrial projects to the province of Nova Scotia,” he wrote. “It has particular implications for the Strait of Canso Port.”

He pointed out that the Strait of Canso is the largest tonnage port in Nova Scotia and has garnered interest from many major industrial clients.

“These industrial clients have purchased land at a fair market value and accepted the fact that they will have to pay their fair share of taxes,” Gilfoy said.

He said that even if the proposed amendments were available to all municipal units, it would create a bidding war among municipalities for industry attraction.

The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) recently shared a letter indicating its support for the changes. Following last week’s council meeting Chisholm-Beaton said she had not yet had an opportunity to look closely at the letter, but plans to read it and share it with council.

“I will probably present the letter at the committee of the whole for the benefit of all our council, so they are able to understand why the UNSM took the stance that they did in support of the bill,” she added.