WENTWORTH CREEK, N.S. — Following a debate amongst citizens and a former councillor in the gallery, West Hants Council decided to pass on holding a plebiscite to gauge public opinion on the municipality’s pending consolidation with the Town of Windsor.
Councillors voted 5-4 against a plebiscite, defeating the idea.
For some councillors, it was considered the last chance to let the public have their say on merging with Windsor — for others, the potential non-binding vote was seen as costly and self-defeating.
Raymond Meehan, a Mantua resident who was circulating a petition to get residents’ views on amalgamation, said he’s disappointed with the result.
“It’s important to me because we live in a democracy, and I believe people should have a say,” Meehan said. “I would have been happy if we had a plebiscite and people were for it, but I don’t think the government has the right to tell people what’s going on, whether you like it or not.”
Meehan and about two dozen other residents in the gallery were present for the special meeting, some wearing stickers on their clothing with ‘yes’ written on them — hoping council would approve the plebiscite.
“I just feel that the people were cheated at this point, we just wanted to have a say,” he said.
If approved, the non-binding plebiscite would have been held on Dec. 22, costing approximately $50,000.
Bill 55, provincial legislation to merge Windsor and West Hants, is expected to be passed later this month.
West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian, who voted against the plebiscite, said it was a tough decision for council.
“I’m a supporter of people having their voice, I’ve always been supportive of a plebiscite,” Zebian said. “I think it should have been done three years ago as part of the whole process.”
“Based on the current bill now, I voted no based on that, because it had no meat on its bones. It was non-binding,” he added. “To ask (the public) what their opinion is when it’s not being taken into consideration, I don’t see the point.”
The next steps for West Hants is to wait for Bill 55 to become law. Once that happens a transition coordinator will be appointed, and paid for, by the province.
The coordinator will be the fifth member of a transition committee, which will also have the mayor and deputy mayor of Windsor as well as the warden and deputy warden of West Hants.
Candidates submitted by the town and municipality will be considered.
Zebian said it’s important that whoever the transition coordinator is, that they are a neutral party.
Zebian said Ray Ivanvy was floated as a potential transition coordinator, but he wasn’t available to fill the roll.
“It’s not about not knowing the area, it’s about not having any previous affiliations with one of the units, whether as staff or councillor,” he said. “We don’t want them to be biased.”
Joint council, where Windsor and West Hants councils meet approximately once a month, will be put on hold to allow for consolidation efforts to proceed.
Zebian said this was done partly to avoid meeting fatigue amongst councillors, adding that there are going to be a lot of meetings during the transition process.
“We are going to gauge people’s opinions, we are going to listen to every comment,” he said.