This editorial has been re-published from March 1, 2017
Bashaw residents are not being asked to join a bad deal from the Highway 12/21 Regional Water Services Commission, they are being told to.
There’s so much water under the Town of Bashaw that it was only a matter of time before someone was going to find a way to suck it all up. In this case, an organization that has far more leverage than this small community of 830 people (Census 2016).
Government officials would have residents believe that these changes will have long-term benefits in terms of water quality, water safety and reliability of service. Those are definitely small pieces to the puzzle, but these same officials appear reluctant to talk about the actual quantity of water that sits underneath Bashaw.
It’s almost as if planners want to pretend there’s no Buffalo Lake or other water bodies in the area.
A request from officials to see what the town’s actual water levels were met with obfuscation or lack of response. These actions are suspect. The province’s reluctance to give clear, quantified data on the matter raised red flags that found a trail of minutes from the commission. These public documents show that the town’s water supply has increased, a lot, since 2008.
There’s water under them hills.
Bashaw’s water system has been treating residents well enough that it has been making money for the town, adding to its limited, but much-needed funds. Joining the water commission those many years ago may have seemed ideal in order to protect residents from potential drying of wells but as things currently sit, there’s plenty of water to go around.
Equally galling is the half a million dollar penalty that the town would be expected to pay to get out of the deal. Keep in mind that a cancellation request would still have to go to the province for approval and there’s little to no chance of that being approved.
Even if the province was open to the idea of the town separating, planners are banking on the fact that the town would balk at the idea of spending that kind of money. Although Bashaw makes enough from water sales it probably could handle the cost, and improve its infrastructure from the money made.
The province is pushing for more regionalized services, but residents shouldn’t be the ones to lose out on this deal.
What really can Town of Bashaw leaders do? They could fight, but when you’re the little fish in a big pond there’s not much that can be done to stall the process.
One can easily see why town councillors appear so willing to move forward with this plan; they have no choice but to accept the agreement. When a municipality exists by the good grace of the province, there is little recourse but to accept its demands.
In section 92 of the Canadian Constitution — exclusive powers of provincial legislatures — provinces give power to a variety of groups, municipalities sit eighth in that list, just above taverns. There’s not very much bargaining room for councillors.
And if they put up a fight? Well there’s not much wiggle room when it comes to accessing grants from the province as it is, in this case there would be even less.
Residents are being forced into this deal and are having to suffer because of it.
The province and the commission have done a disservice to the Town of Bashaw and its residents. The ease of which the commission railroaded Bashaw into this bad deal leaves a lot to be desired as far as fair treatment is concerned.