Amalgamation Perspectives: Citizen Responses to Municipal Consolidation

“The 1999 Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) Citizen Survey is used here to study citizen responses to a municipal amalgamation that created the Halifax Regional Municipality. The analysis of this survey brings forward citizen-based assessments of the amalgamation decision and subsequent municipal governance. Questionnaire items are used to create measures of citizens’ views concerning amalgamation, the relationship between the urban and rural spaces of the new municipality, the performance of the HRM political leadership and the impact of amalgamation on municipal services.

There are two key research questions. How did HRM citizens assess amalgamation after three years of experience? What factors best explain citizens’ views towards amalgamation? The political and policy context of the amalgamation decision taken unilaterally by the Nova Scotia provincial government is briefly described. In turning to the survey data, key variables are developed and then used in a model of citizens’ amalgamation perspectives.

The Context of Municipal Amalgamation in Nova Scotia

In 1991, the Nova Scotia Minister of Municipal Affairs initiated a Task Force on Local Government to balance the design and implementation of local government with provincial settlement patterns. The municipal reform objectives for the province were:

  • To preserve and develop vital urban centres with a wide range of services, including social, educational, commercial, cultural, governmental and recreational amenities
  • To deliver services to the communities of Nova Scotia based upon their needs, taking into account the differences in population, environmental circumstances and type of community
  • To achieve an equitable, effective and fiscally sound system of municipal government to deliver community services (Nova Scotia 1992)

This Task Force continued a discussion of municipal reform that had been on-going since the 1970s which began with a royal commission on education, services and provincial-municipal relationships (Nova Scotia 1974). This most recent stage, however, moved from word to deed. The Nova Scotia government passed legislation which amalgamated the communities of industrial Cape Breton (Nova Scotia 1995a). Reflecting on their accomplishment and the lack of immediate, negative political consequences, the government did the same for the Halifax region (field interviews, Nova Scotia 1995b).

At the time, proponents of amalgamation argued that this effort would decrease the over-all cost of government, improve the quality and level of services, improve regional planning and strengthen economic development by reducing competition between the four municipalities which were consolidated by the legislation. The Municipal Reform Commissioner’s Interim Report (on amalgamation) boldly projected efficiencies in both the delivery of services and their administration (Hayward 1993).

The single-tiered Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) was created 1 April 1996 with the amalgamation of four municipalities — the Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, the Town of Bedford and the Municipality of the County of Halifax — and the elimination of the Halifax Regional Authority. The new municipality consists of almost 2,500 square miles and brings together an urban core, suburban neighbourhoods and “big box” shopping centres with small communities, villages, farm land and wilderness. It is diverse in its economy and geography. The regional economy includes the financial centre of the Atlantic region, six universities, the provincial capital, a container port, the Canadian Navy, lobster fishing and dairy farming. Its population density, if expressed as an average, would be completely misleading. Still, most areas within the region are part of a shared social and political life and economy. The amalgamation began in a context of conflict between the provincial and municipal governments and was implemented without municipal consent through legislation by the Nova Scotia government (Nova Scotia 1995b)

D. Poel | Published 22 March 2000 |Political Science | The Canadian Journal of Regional Science,