Living in Halifax has given me first hand experience of the “HRM”, the Halifax Regional Municipality. The HRM sort of seems like local politicians saw other Canadian regional governments, such as the Toronto “Mega-City” and the unsuccessful merger of municipalities on the Island of Montreal, and applied it to a region that doesn’t make as much sense.
The HRM, as you can see, makes up a significant portion of the province of Nova Scotia. But size doesn’t matter in agglomerating political districts: what matters is flows — if the flows of peoples, goods, traffic and communications begins to spread widely, over formerly significant geo-political boundaries, that’s when an urban amalgamation makes sense.
But — the HRM — it doesn’t seem to make sense to me, a new-comer to this city. Beyond its immediate neighbours, the towns surrounding Halifax seem pretty disconnected from the Peninsular City. And, whereas in Montreal and Toronto, you have a certain degree of suburban sprawl that sees a significant number of commuters travelling between places, in Halifax, the sprawl is relatively limited, and you reach rural land quickly once leaving the city.
The HRM is an astonishingly big political entity, where people from extremely different walks of life, with extremely different needs and political attitudes, have to somehow come together and make decisions that affect everyone. The consequences are broad ranging, an example being that wealthy suburban, or otherwise interested rural voters will have more influence on city council and consequently neglect the needs inner city urban folk, as we saw in Toronto’s last mayoral election.
Indeed, I believe in the need for regional government. It makes sense that a forum be established where plans regarding such problems as energy and transportation infrastructures, issues that make sense at a regional scale, be discussed and plans executed. But regional government should not replace local, autonomous government. I may go so far as saying local government should have the most influence, nested within regional, provincial and federal levels of governance.
The seeming ridiculousness of the HRM presented itself the other day, when, driving back from Tancook Island, many signs announcing towns along the highway, like the one in the first photo, boasted the HRM logo, with the phrase “Welcome to Our Community”.
It was incredibly strange realizing that we were already “in Halifax”, even though our surroundings included sea side cottages and farms. Most ridiculous was the repeated notion of “our community” — what are these communities, and who established them? What happens to the meaning of “community” when it is constantly repeated in the same monotonus fashion, and is imposed from some distant, top-down governing body? What does it mean when we enter the Community of Halifax? These signs betray the non-sensical logic of the HRM and speak of the continuing trend of potentially harmful centralization in Canadian governance.