What’s on the plate?

In a week when the best news the province could give Manitobans was that the debt was climbing at a slower pace than expected, a strange press release came out. 
Restaurants are going to be asked to voluntarily list the ingredients of the food on their menus. Apparently, Manitobans are too dumb to know that food equals calories and too many calories means weight gain. The province figures restaurant owners have nothing better to do than to pay a staff person, whose wages may have just gone up this week by way of the Manitoba Minimum Wage act, to sit down and figure out how much fat or sodium is in a plate full of food. There are many things that government seemingly has to do to satisfy the endless demands of people that one would think that setting up new annoying bureaucracies wouldn’t make the government wish list. Manitoba’s deficit, per year, is still running at over $500 million. That means we are adding a half billion a year to the provincial debt. 
This past year or so, the province has spent a fortune on bossing municipalities around and demanding that they amalgamate. Most don’t want to, many should, but several don’t want to to join up. This battle, which has been headed up by Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux, has been vigorously fought but it has a strange twist to it. No one can figure out what’s in it for the government? If a municipality wants to stay small, or stay the same as they have been, what does it matter to the province or to Minister Lemieux? 
Even Lemieux says it won’t save money, so why would he plunge ahead?
The answer is indeed elusive. Perhaps the government wants to see larger municipal groupings so that there’s fewer municipalities to deal with. However, the savings would be minimal. Maybe they could get by with one less local government department staff person. Experienced politicians think that it’s actually driven not by cost savings, but by future potential downloads. The biggest suspect is policing costs which are climbing constantly. The RCMP need new facilities in several communities and the province may be looking to download costs of both facilities and operations more onto the municipalities. That was a direct after-effect of municipal amalgamation in Ontario.
Ironically, at the local level, there are several places that amalgamation should take place. Again, it’s not so much to save money as it is to save time and to move municipalities ahead more quickly. In many communities, if a local decision is needed, it goes to as many as five councils. If one council has questions, it goes back to all the other councils and there may be lengthy delays on relatively small decisions. 
When looking at municipal jurisdictions, one has to ask why the RM of McCreary and Town of McCreary isn’t all one unit? The same can be asked at Ste. Rose or Rivers or Hamiota. At Neepawa, my position has always been that Glenella, Lansdowne, Langford, Rosedale and Neepawa should all be one unit.
The planning district includes four of the five, the vet district all five, the care home agreement includes all five, so does the medical clinic. Then there’s agreements on fire protection and water lines that include two or more of the municipal units. A majority of councillors and maybe a majority of residents may not agree with amalgamation, but a lot of time and frustration could be saved if amalgamation took place.
There’s another advantage to amalgamation and that is when addressing either the provincial or the federal governments on issues of policy or grants, a larger group would carry a lot more weight. Some would argue that the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM), is there to carry that load. While AMM, and the much larger FCM, have lobbied for some significant changes such as infrastructure funding, it’s left up to individual municipalities to fight their own battles with governments.
Amalgamation is a bit like that plate of food at the restaurant. We shouldn’t need the government to tell us what’s good for us. We should know on our own and be prepared to act in our own best interests. 

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kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247