Photo by Dake Lowthers The grassroots community group, Let Antigonish Decide, made some alterations to their signs, including this one in Heatherton, thanking the premier and local MLA on not tabling the special legislation in regards to the Antigonish consolidation.

ANTIGONISH: In wake of the special legislation being left off the spring sitting, the warden for the Municipality of the County of Antigonish says they fell victim to an enormous health budget, but are still fully pursuing consolidation.

During the Committee of the Whole meeting, prior to the county’s regular, monthly council meeting on April 18, Warden Owen McCarron brought up the issue surrounding consolidation, as he wanted to highlight the March 24 meeting he and Mayor Laurie Boucher had with Minister John Lohr.

“Obviously he let us know at that point, the special legislation wasn’t going through in the spring sitting,” McCarron told reporters. “I was disappointed, but at the end of the day, the province’s focus has been on health care and the budget; so there were probably several pieces of legislature that didn’t make it onto the docket.”

While he noted they’re disappointed it wasn’t introduced, he also indicated, they’re not totally surprised as they recognize and respect the provincial government’s mandate.

Despite legal action against the municipality and a recent Mainstreet Research poll calling for a plebiscite, with 70.4 per cent believing a plebiscite should occur, the warden believes consolidation is still in the best interest of citizens.

“I think tonight we saw an example of some of the increased pressures that are coming on municipalities; we look at the policing costs, we look at insurance costs, so we need to find ways to be absolutely as efficient as possible,” McCarron said. “Consolidation in my view, provides a lot of efficiencies for our community and I’m very much committed to it. We’ll wait to see what the fall sitting does.”

As for the community members who don’t see the scenario in the same light, he acknowledges there were a lot of touch-points throughout the consultation process.

“I can tell you there are a lot of people that quietly are very optimistic about consolidation,” McCarron said. “Our council made a decision on Oct. 20, so therefore we’re going to proceed and we’ll see where the fall sitting of the legislature lands.”

When asked if council had received assurances from the staff at the Department of Municipal Affairs that if a motion was made, legislation would be forthcoming, he explained, they did have that mindset.

“Having everything in place, the spring sitting would have been the natural spot, for the legislation to [be introduced],” McCarron said. “Having said that, and having worked in government myself, in another life, I also recognize, we’re just a piece of the puzzle, the province has many irons in the fire, and we fell victim of a very big health budget.”

While he wouldn’t 100 per cent confirm or deny any reassurances were made by Municipal Affairs, he did acknowledge staff were encouraged if they had everything in place, that there was a strong possibility.

“Ultimately, those decisions rest with the executive council of government, and they make the decisions what pieces of legislation moves forward,” McCarron said. “Although we had some feeling that it we had everything done, and in a timely fashion, that it would meet the spring sitting, however the province has a busy agenda.”

The warden also doesn’t believe they were thrown under the bus with the situation.

“I look back over many pieces of legislation over my, close to 30 years, in this job, and recognizing there are times when you think something is going forward, but the government moves in a different direction because they have a different priority,” McCarron said. “We just have to take our cue when given.”

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Drake Lowthers has been a community journalist for The Reporter since July, 2018. His coverage of the suspicious death of Cassidy Bernard garnered him a 2018 Atlantic Journalism Award and a 2019 Better Newspaper Competition Award; while his extensive coverage of the Lionel Desmond Fatality Inquiry received a second place finish nationally in the 2020 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards for Best Feature Series. A Nova Scotia native, who has called Antigonish home for the past decade, Lowthers has a strong passion in telling people’s stories in a creative, yet thought-provoking way. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2016, where he played varsity football with the Hurricanes. His simple pleasures in life include his two children, photography, live music and the local sports scene.