The provincial government says it won’t approve the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association’s decision to change its name until the organization has a mandate from its membership to do so.
The decision in February to rebrand as Municipalities of Saskatchewan has riled members of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities who say the name implies one organization represents all. Some also worried about the threat of amalgamating the two organizations.
At the recent annual SARM convention, government relations minister Lori Carr told delegates that SUMA requires legislative approval to change its name.
That has to be done through a private bill, introduced by an MLA, and can only happen at the start of a legislative session. The legislature is currently in the fourth sitting of the current session; a bill cannot come forward until after the next election.
Carr said the government does not interfere in independent operations of either SARM or SUMA but that both must comply with their incorporating legislation.
“If either organization wishes to undertake a fundamental change, like a name change, we would expect that organization have a mandate from its members and that is exactly what we have asked SUMA to do,” she said to applause.
“Until that mandate is received, the legislation is amended and they are final, the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association remains as the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.”
But Gordon Barnhart, president of the urban association, said legislative approval or not, the organization will be known as Municipalities of Saskatchewan.
He noted that New North is actually the Saskatchewan Association of Northern Communities yet it goes by the shorter name.
“We have legislation ready to go,” he said in an interview. “What the minister said yesterday was they wouldn’t vote in favour of it until we had a mandate from our membership, which is fine. We’re continuing on… to provide the same services to our membership under the new name and when the act is amended that will be fine but there’s no urgency.”
Barnhart said the change wasn’t intended to cause hurt feelings among RMs, nor was it a bid to amalgamate.
“I’m not pushing for amalgamation of the two organizations,” Barnhart said. “I have been pushing towards more co-operation, more projects working together. Unfortunately, I think this has done damage on my members who are saying we’re not so much in favour of working together now.”
In his address to the convention, SARM president Ray Orb said the organization promotes co-operation between municipalities.
“We believe in the power of working with our rural, urban and First Nations neighbours,” he said. “We support the RMs who wish to join their neighbours in forming municipal districts according to the legislation that is in place. SARM will not stand in the way, but we will stand up for rural municipalities.”
Delegates passed a resolution asking SARM to lobby against the change.
The resolution, which came from the SARM board of directors, said SARM should stand with urban municipalities that voted at their convention against a resolution to discuss amalgamating the two organizations.
The motion also said SARM should “make a strong statement” to the premier that the name change to Municipalities of Saskatchewan not be permitted.