Manitoba Community Newspaper Association (MCNA) member Ken Waddell recently pointed out how the party allegiance and whip system creates barriers and constraints to individual MLAs representing the varied needs of their constituents. Earlier, he also pointed out that a lack of consultation also impedes the development of good legislation. For example, in creating Bill 19, the MCNA was left out. Municipal Affairs Minister Jeff Wharton admitted that ONLY the livestock and aggregate industries and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities leadership were consulted prior to Bill 19 being drafted.
Despite considerable valid opposition from the newspaper sector, the planner’s association, a reeve, and the public at the legislative committee hearings as well as over 17,300 petitioners to date, emails, phone calls and other protestations, Cabinet continues to force Bill 19 through the legislature to ensure it passes. Backbencher MLAs will have to tow the line or face repercussions.
Minister Wharton sells Bill 19 as a way to give municipalities a “fair say.” Does he really think municipal councillors are that stupid? That they can be so easily seduced into giving up their autonomy and control over where hog factories and large livestock operations can or cannot be built by eliminating the now mandatory conditional use process for livestock operations from development plans and zoning by-laws? Does he think that forcing municipalities to review their plans and zoning by-laws will foster positive relations between councillors and the people they represent?
In effect, municipalities that succumb to the Province’s wishes will be “whipped.” Such current and future councils will be forced to accept Provincial decisions on where the livestock industry can expand. Both municipalities and the public will have no say, never mind a “fair say.”
Surely, councillors are more intelligent than that. Surely, they will understand the trap that has been set for them and their constituents. Surely, they will be able to see through the ruse of Bill 19 and conclude that to follow the provincial Cabinet’s agenda they will be putting themselves and rural people at risk. Will councillors who live in the rural agriculture zone want to risk waking up one morning to find a hog factory or large feedlot being built next door and have no say?
Waddell’s alarm about how the public’s voice can, and is now being, ignored by the Provincial government should be heeded. As journalism student Will Reimer told the legislative committee, “changes like this, once passed, are very difficult to repeal. As someone who has studied history, I understand that the privileges of living in a free and democratic society are rarely taken away all at once. Rather, they are chipped away by pieces of legislation such as section 25,” of Bill 19 that gives municipalities the ability to choose not to publish notices of public hearings in newspapers.
If councillors allow themselves to be seduced into giving away control over industrial livestock expansion and erode democracy, what’s next?