Inter-Municipal Co-operation and Reform: Municipal Amalgamations

Ailin He, Housing Affordability, Research Papers, Wendell Cox

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy has just released Inter-municipal co-operation and reform: Municipal Amalgamations. This paper is co-authored by Wendell Cox and Ailin He. Wendell Cox is a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the principal of Demographia, an international consultancy specializing in regional and municipal housing policy. Ailine is an economics PhD candidate with McGill University. The paper is a comprehensive historical analysis of whether or not municipal amalgamation should be voluntary or mandatory.

The debate on municipal amalgamation has been ongoing for at least eight decades. Both sides to the issue have been fiercely debated.  The supporters of amalgamation, in Saskatchewan, considered municipal amalgamation to be necessary and argue that larger municipalities generally provide better governance while the opponents of municipal amalgamation argue that it reduces democratic access. 

Introduction

One of the most contentious issues in Saskatchewan for nearly a century has been municipal amalgamation, specifically whether amalgamations should be mandatory or voluntary (a goal or an option).1 Municipal amalgamation is an important part of what Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom referred to as a municipal “reform movement.”2 A principal purpose was to amalgamate multiple decentralised local governments into single, one-tiered governments over functional economic regions (based on labour markets)3 inside and outside metropolitan areas. Proponents argued that the larger governments resulting from amalgamation would have lower unit costs; could better deal with regional issues; could hire staff that is more professional; and that they are financially more stable (Section 3).

This report describes the evolution of the mandatory amalgamation debate in Saskatchewan, focusing on developments in the Grant Devine government (1982-1991) as well as on developments up to the present. In practice, the policy of the province has been to avoid imposing mandatory amalgamations. However, as mandatory municipal amalgamations continue to be proposed and implemented in Canada and elsewhere, the issue could return to Saskatchewan. The purpose of this paper is to propose a policy road map in the form of recommendations based on the experience in Saskatchewan and elsewhere, as well as the academic research.

To read this entire intriguing comprehensive historical analysis, click here: FC201_MunicipalAmalg_SP2217_F1