The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) confirmed last week it will take the provincial government to court over forced amalgamation.
The association and five municipalities are named in legal proceedings filed December 11, a move that follows a majority vote among delegates at AMM’s November convention to proceed with the action.
The challenge is directed at the implementation of the Municipal Modernization Act, not at the act itself, which is now law, AMM president Doug Dobrowolski told reporters last week.
“We know we can’t stop amalgamation. That’s not what we put the challenge in for,” he said. “We are asking for procedural fairness in accordance with the act.”
The focus of the challenge relates to 11 letters sent to 32 municipalities by provincial Municipal Minister Stan Struthers October 30. The letters lay out merger plans the province has for these municipalities, including who these municipalities merger partners will be and where their new office will be located.
Dobrowolski said AMM believes the province violated its own legislation by making decisions prior to Dec. 1 on how these municipalities are to proceed.
Municipalities had a Dec. 1 deadline to submit their own merger plans.
Dobrowolski said AMM wants the minister to inform municipalities and their residents if the plan he ultimately recommends to cabinet for approval differs from what the municipality submitted.
That’s because these plans are in accordance with ratepayers’ wishes, Dobrowolski said.
“But the way the legislation is written, he (Minister Struthers) doesn’t have to notify the public if he makes any change,” he said. “We’re asking for a decision from the courts that if he changes those plans in any way he has to go back to the public.
“This is about fairness and transparency and that’s all we want.”
Struthers said in an interview during the AMM convention in late November that the letters were sent to tell those municipalities without a merger plan, that the province has one for them. He also gave these municipalities a deadline extension of Feb. 1 to come up with one of their own.
“Right now their destiny is in their own hands,” Struthers said. “They can choose to sit out and have a plan implemented on their behalf, or they can come to the table and work on a plan that is more suited to their area.”
The letters say, “Here’s the configuration that may exist come the morning of Feb. 1,” he added.
Dobrowolski said the legal challenge is on behalf of the 32 municipalities receiving these letters, but a positive outcome would affect all 87 municipalities, which have populations under 1,000 and are required to amalgamate.
The five municipalities named in the action are Plum Coulee, Emerson and Gilbert Plains as well as the RMs of Grandview and Harrison. The AMM is paying for the lawsuit out of its own legal fund.
This is not a defence of those who ignored the Dec. 1 deadline and submitted no plan at all, Dobrowolski added.
“There are a few,” he said. The AMM has stressed to all municipalities that they must obey the law and submit a plan, even if the plan is not to amalgamate, he added.