CBRM Council: Setting Boundaries

CBRM council voted last night to hire a consultant to conduct a Utility and Review Board (UARB)-mandated district boundary review and make recommendations about district and council size.

Planning and Development Director Michael Ruus had been asked, during a special council meeting on January 25, to prepare an Issue Paper on the subject and he turned it around in what has to be record time for a CBRM Issue Paper.



Ruus stressed that his department is a “very lean group” already up to its elbows (my term, not his) in work, as it is currently managing CBRM Forward, updating the Active Transportation Plan, updating the taxi by-law, studying the proposed sign law and overseeing a regulatory modernization pilot, all of which projects are expected to be completed in 2022. Were council to task the department with the boundary review as well, Ruus said it would have to adjust some of these other deadlines.

His recommendation was that council hire a consultant to handle the boundary review process at a cost of $50,000 and that staff be authorized to issue a request for proposals immediately so the work can be completed by end-2022.



Ruus went over ground he’d already covered during that special council meeting, outlining the two basic parts to the boundary review process:

boundary review steps


In that previous presentation, he’d referenced the CBRM Viability Study, conducted by Grant Thornton in 2019, which had recommended council “explore the benefits and drawbacks of transitioning to a municipal structure consisting of three districts” with an eye to “improving larger regional objectives and mentalities.”

This was brought up during last night’s discussion by councilors who fear any further reduction in the number of councilors will have a negative effect on rural representation, but Ruus reminded them that the recommendation is not to reduce the size of the council — it’s to reduce the number of districts, the implication being that you would then elect multiple “councilors at large” for each district. The net effect might not involve any change to the size of council (although it could). Such a change, however, would require an amendment to the Municipal Government Act (MGA) which only allows one councilor per district.



Last night’s discussion centered on whether it made more sense to hire a consultant or appoint an ad-hoc boundary review committee and ask the planning department to carry out the work, including the public consultation.

In the end, council voted in favor of hiring a consultant, the only dissenting voices being those of James Edwards (District 8), Steve Parsons (District 7) and Lorne Green (District 12).

Still from 8 Feb 2022 CBRM council meeting

Green’s opposition to hiring a consultant was mostly financial, although he also seemed to feel that he was defending staff’s qualifications to do the work (which I don’t think were actually in question, Ruus was pretty clear about the problem being his department’s workload.)

Parsons also based his opposition on the $50,000 price tag and Edwards seemed to be concerned about the amount of input council would have into the proceedings if they handed the process to a consultant. (Ruus said council would have to approve any recommendation before it was sent to the UARB and District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie suggested councilors would likely be approached for input by the consultant.)

Other councilors, though, even those like Glenn Paruch (District 6) and Deputy Mayor Earlene MacMullin (District 2), who said they generally didn’t favor hiring consultants felt it made sense in this case where the subject under discussion was basically their own jobs.

Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger (District 10) was the voice of sad experience, having served on not one but two councils that had their boundary review recommendations rejected by the UARB. I recounted those stories last month, but it’s worth noting that the 2010 review was conducted by a consultant — Stantec — which recommended council be reduced from 16 to 12 members.

Council rejected this recommendation and went to the UARB with a recommendation to retain 16 councilors and the UARB denied it, saying:

…a strong majority of CBRM residents desire a reduced council size…Further, the polling results indicated a preference to eliminate several councillors, not just one or two.

Bruckschwaiger said during last night’s discussion that individual councilors can always make their own presentations to the UARB, but he suggested they go with whatever the consultant recommends because the last time “it turned into quite a mess, I can tell you.”