Seven dirty words you can’t say in government….

Work in Progress

By Ivan Morgan

I understand this is a community newspaper and I am not allowed to use dirty words. Let’s see if we can sneak this one past the editor.

Ready? Regionalization.

Okay, so maybe it’s not one of George Carlin’s seven famous words, but in provincial politics it sure is.

Regionalization is the word government uses for its plan to make people who live in smaller communities, or in unincorporated areas, pay tax or in some cases more tax.

The problem is those people don’t want to.

Most municipalities and areas in question say government should give them more money.

The problem there is government doesn’t want to either.

The latest Liberal Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs joined a long line of former ministers in February announcing big plans for regionalization. It’s going to happen, she said with confidence and authority. Government has a plan.

Governments have had regional plans for decades. Some better than others. It still hasn’t happened.

Recently, The Telegram got e-mails between the premier’s office and the Department through an access to information request. Officially, government says full speed ahead. Privately, e-mails from the department indicate there seems to be no “appetite” for change.

In the immortal words of a former Premier, “You betcha.”

Make no mistake, it’s a dirty word that will raise more ire in the public than any of the customary ones.

Years ago, a buddy of mine who was a small-town mayor told me all about that dirtiest of words. A socially minded fellow, he would once a month hold a mayor’s forum on various topics. He would advertise it in the local paper. Few ever showed up. So, he thought a forum on regionalization might liven things up.

It sure did. Building capacity was exceeded an hour before it started. The RCMP had to be called for traffic and crowd control. Most had to stand outside. They made themselves abundantly clear – no thanks.

I know all the reasons for wanting to implement regionalization. Some of them are good reasons. Many municipalities struggle to even pay the power bill for the few streetlights they have. They need more money.  Some see nearby unincorporated communities as a tax base. So does the provincial government.

The problem is the people living in these areas really, really don’t want it. Really don’t.

Many MHAs have told me privately they are very worried about forcing that dirtiest of words on folks in their district who don’t want it. The word “undemocratic” has been used.

It’s a political nightmare. The Liberals are using tough talk hoping to make this happen. They have used tough talk in the past to little effect. Remember the very same government recently told us they were renaming Red Indian Lake, that was that. Done deal. Take it or leave it.

You’d think they’d learn.

Forcing things on people – even good ideas – is a very risky move politically.

How risky? Allow me a short anecdote. Many years ago, there was a government plan afoot to amalgamate (another dirty word) Portugal Cove and St. Phillips. Government arranged a public meeting. I lived in St. Phillips and like practically every one of my neighbours I had to take time from my very busy life to attend the meeting.

I got there early, but the room soon filled. There was a delay while speakers were hooked up for the crowds outside. No one was there in support. The local MHA of the time bravely stood at the podium, a nervous smile on his sweaty face. He was very unhappy. How unhappy?

While we all sat waiting, I noticed someone go out the back door of the community centre, which was behind the stage. When the door opened, I saw the MHA’s executive assistant (who I knew) sitting at the wheel of a car, right outside the door, engine running.

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