County, Springhill concerned citizens square off

Dave Mathieson
Published on June 13, 2014

UPPER NAPPAN - Former Cumberland South MLA, Murray Scott, and former MP For Cumberland-Colchester Musquodoboit Valley, Bill Casey, spoke on behalf of the Springhill concerned citiznes coalition during Wednesday's meeting of County Council.

"We're a democratic country and democracy is suspended in Springhill right now," said Casey in the council chamber during Wednesdays meeting.

"Five people have decided there will never be an election for mayor and council (in Springhill)," he added. "They benefited from the democratic process but they're saying that will never happen again."

A public hearing by Casey and Scott was not on the council agenda and, initially, their request to speak to council was rejected, but then warden Keith Hunter asked council to vote on the matter. Council voted almost unanimously to allow them to speak.

Casey said he was did not come to council as an adversary but says he is very displeased with how the amalgamation process is currently being negotiated between Springhill, the County and the province of Nova Scotia.

"A lot of the people in Springhill, as far as I can tell it's 99 per cent, are against this decision because they've never been given the information and asked to come along with the decision," said Casey. "We need information, we all deserve to be heard, we all deserve a democratic process."

During the council meeting, council passed a motion read by councillor John Kellegrew.

"I move that council accept and approve the RCMP policing proposal to provide RCMP services and establish an RCMP detachment in Springhill effective April 1, 2015, conditional on the approval of the dissolution application and mergers by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, further that council requests approval of the proposal from the minister of justice," said Kelligrew.

Warden Hunter says there would be substantial savings by replacing the Town of Springhill Police Department with the RCMP. 

Those financial comparisons are currently in the hands of John Leefe, the transition co-ordinator appointed by the province to facitlitate the amalgamation process, and have not been made public.

Scott says the numbers could be skewed in favour of bringing the RCMP to Springhill. He would like to know if the numbers include the $250,000 per year the Springhill Police Department makes through background security checks, and the $200,000 grant the department gets from the province each year to have two police officers on the street crime unit.

"Those numbers have to be taken into account, but the numbers have not been released," said Scott.

It was pointed out during the meeting that all police currently employed by the town of Springhill have put in applications with the RCMP.

"All the police officers have to apply because they would have no job otherwise," said Scott. "They have no choice to apply if they want to have a living for their families."

Casey is frustrated with the lack of transparency and how the process is shrouded in mystery. He told council the entire process is flawed and says the people of Springhill are being steamrolled by Springhill mayor and council.

"If we don't maintain our democracy, and this is not a democratic process, we're all going to all suffer."

Hunter took exception to the steamroll comment.

"We're not trying to steamroll, we're just there as a good neighbour trying to help out," said the warden.

Hunter said it's not about Us vs. Them.

"We're all together in this. If we can help the town of Springhill in any way through economic development and being sustainable then we're going to do that."

He added that the county would always be mindful of the needs of Springhiller's.

"We're elected here to represent the people of Cumberland County and we try to do that as best we can," he said. "We will be looking out for the interest of Springhiller's just as much as we do for the rest of the County."

The decision for or against amalgamation is currently in the hands of the Nova Scotia Utility Review Board, and Hunter says a final decision on the matter could be made by the URB before the end of the year.

He told Casey the decision would not be based on emotion.

"Rather than having an emotional decision made it should be based on dollars and cents."

Casey said the decision would have huge consequences for the people of Springhill, and added, "It is an emotional decision because it's one of the biggest decisions made about Springhill.

"I was lucky enough to represent the people of Springhill for 17 years. They elected me six times. I know them well and when I heard this I knew the process was wrong," added Casey "I don't know about the decision because there's not enough information to make a decision when you're out of the loop."

Scott also spoke to council and kept his speech short.

"I believe there's not one person here today who would treat their constituents they way the constituents of Springhill are being treated today," said Scott.

The Springhill citizen's coalition currently has a petition with close to 900 signatures calling for a plebiscite on amalgamation.

"I can't say they're all neighbours of mine who pay taxes and I can't say some aren't constituents of yours," said Scott to council. "But if a plebiscite is allowed and the majority of people in Springhill agree with what's happening, then I'll be one of the people front and centre to make that happen, but they deserve and opportunity to have a say."