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Agriculture This Week - Municipal amalgamation needed

If there is one thing rural Saskatchewan seems to hold as sacred it is its municipal governments.

If there is one thing rural Saskatchewan seems to hold as sacred it is its municipal governments.

While there have been tentative attempts at suggesting the need for municipal government amalgamation, the backlash had those bringing it up ducking their heads rather quickly. That is because the issue is purely political in nature. It will take an iron will from a provincial government to push a meaning amalgamation, and that could well have political backlash in predominantly rural ridings.

But the State of Rural Canada Report, released Sept. 17 by the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation isn’t ducking the issue.

Nor should it.

The numbers are pretty dramatic in suggesting change is needed.

The Report suggests Saskatchewan has more incorporated municipal governments per capita than any other province — a total of 781 local councils including rural municipalities, cities, towns, villages and resort communities.

Factor in a population of just more than one million, and the result is a truckload of local government.

The Report suggests a ratio of one municipal government for approximately every 1,300 residents. By comparison, Ontario has one municipal government for every 28,800 residents.

While there is the overlaying factor of the size of Saskatchewan, an element which does impact the providing of services, in the 21st century that is far less an issue than it was only a decade or two ago.

There has to be some economies achievable through less local government, whether it’s the cost of operating multiple offices, have multiple administrators, or under-utilized assets.

But there are other factors to consider too.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the smallest of local governments can effectively deal with the issues that are arising these days as infrastructure ages.

It is one thing to keep streetlights operating, and garbage collected, but is another to have the funds to tear up the street in a small village and replace failing water lines. The population to raise the tax dollars needed are just not there.

And while there has been moderate growth in at least some communities in the last few years, numbers are not suddenly going to see many communities revitalized to ensure long term viability.

There has been a process of municipal amalgamation taking place in Manitoba, and while it was not without its growing pains, if not outright mistakes, but the concept was at least right for the times.

That Manitoba has headed down that path is actually a good thing should Saskatchewan decide to follow as some of the pitfalls can now be avoided.

That is not to say amalgamation is likely in Saskatchewan soon. A provincial election is expected sooner than later, and it is not likely the Saskatchewan Party government is going to poke the rural bear with talk of amalgamation. That would be something to push for at the start of a term, not on the eve of an election.

But it is a path that needs to be explored. It might not be popular, but it is common sense. It’s just a question of who will push for it, and when.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.

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