February 25, 2016 | 7 p.m. | MacKinnon Auditorium, Don and Marion McDougall Hall, UPEI Campus
The Geography of Local Governance on Prince Edward Island:
A Public Symposium
The topic of local governance was the focal point of a Public Symposium, “The Geography of Governance,” sponsored by UPEI’s Institute of Island Studies, in conjunction with UPEI Research Services.
The reform of local government on the Island has been much discussed in recent years, especially since the release of the 2009 Thompson Report of the Commission on Land and Local Governance. At that time, the Island had 75 incorporated municipalities – many of them with just a few hundred people – and 70% of the province’s territory had no local government at all. The situation remains much the same today.
Judge Thompson recommended that local government might be extended to cover the entire Island, and that the units be large enough to be effective and sustainable – that is, with a population of at least 4,000 each. There’s a perception among Islanders that reform is now in the air, and some communities have initiated discussions with their neighbours about joining together to form larger governance units.
If we assume that larger municipal units are on the horizon, and all of the Island could be included, then the question arises about the criteria to be used in deciding on new boundaries. Should cultural factors be paramount?
Or “communities of interest”? Or geographical factors? Or environmental management – such as including a whole watershed within a municipality? Or some combination of these – and others?
The principal speaker was Diane Griffin, noted Island environmentalist, Stratford Town Councillor, and Vice President of the Federation of PEI Municipalities. She was joined by a Panel of three individuals representing various points of view: Dr. Ryan Gibson, Dr. Michael van den Heuvel, and Jeannita Bernard.
Dr. Gibson, who is currently Chair of the Advisory Committee of the Institute of Island Studies, teaches in the Department of Geography, Saint Mary’s University. He has a special interest in collaborative governance in rural regions. He addressed the question: How can the Provincial Government guide and oversee change while respecting and enhancing local democracy and authority? RYAN’S PRESENTATION
Dr. van den Heuvel is the Director of the Canadian Rivers Institute based at UPEI. He discussed case studies and the advantages of defining municipal boundaries based on watersheds to enhance resources for environmental management.
The third Panel member, Jeannita Bernard, of St. Philippe, is a well-known Island singer-songwriter and community leader in the areas of health, education and community development. She explored the idea of creating a new Evangeline regional government unit, which would include the present villages of Wellington and Abram’s Village, plus 12 adjacent unincorporated communities.
The evening was chaired by Dr. Philip Smith (UPEI Psychology). Dr. Jim Randall served as rapporteur for the evening. Click here for his remarks.