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Cumberland municipal council changes are timely

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

It was encouraging to read that the Municipality of Cumberland is reducing the size of its council and changing the way it selects its leader, just in time for next October’s municipal elections. The council is to be congratulated for voting to reduce the number of council seats from 13 to eight, and have the community elect a mayor, in place of the warden system of leadership.

It’s important to note that these changes are what the community itself is anxious to see implemented. A three-month study by municipality staff members included a series of public meetings and surveys with the public expressing an overwhelming preference for a council size of between 8 and 10, a significant reduction from the existing 13 council seats.

These staff members also reported that there was strong public support for electing a mayor to provide leadership for the county. They reported that “The public have spoken more clearly on this issue than any other as shown by the number and content of the comments and an overwhelming preference is to have council leadership switch to a mayor.”

There are a variety of views being expressed as to the impact of the council seat reductions on current councillor workloads.

By way of example, Cou. Ernest Gilbert said, “There are a lot of meetings we have to go to, and I don’t think eight is enough to do the job.”

While Coun. Marlon Chase took an opposite viewpoint, “When I joined council, it had been run the same way for a long time and we had a lot of conversations that we wanted to be more progressive and move forward. This is a move in that direction.”

Clearly, the proposed reductions in council seats will be challenging, but it does provide the county the opportunity to revisit priorities and community expectations of councillors’ efforts on the behalf of citizens.

As for the “mayoral versus warden” debate, I understand the benefits of a warden approach to selecting a leader when facing the challenge of candidates canvassing across the breadth of our county at election time. And the county has been fortunate to have quality leaders to be found in the ranks of the councillors themselves. However, it has always struck me that a leader selected by a council vote is not as meaningful as a leader democratically chosen by the full electorate. Especially when a mayoral contest generally involves several contenders with a variety of ideas on a community’s path forward.

In the long run there will be many benefits from these changes, especially when it comes to the future roles and interactions between the county and the towns of Amherst and Oxford.

In the few years I have lived here, and come to admire this region, I now better understand the county and towns’ different strengths and opportunities for healthy growth, which I believe can be truly synergistic in their abilities to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate parts........and as a result I have become less of an advocate for municipal amalgamation, which I now believe could undermine these productive differences.

In fact, the results of this next round of elections should result in a much higher level of collaboration between the municipalities than we have seen to-date. The outcome will add momentum to the partnership already evident in the good work of the Cumberland Business Connector and the Cumberland Tourism Committee...and produce some much-needed partnership in the “green energy” space than has been the case to-date. As some prominent prairie politician recently declared, “Fighting climate change is a ‘unifying project'.”

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.

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