The decision to not hold a plebiscite on amalgamation in the town of Wabush is not sitting well with local residents.
Amalgamating Wabush and Labrador City was the recommendation of a 2017 report by Stantec, which also recommended a plebiscite.
In May, the town of Labrador City announced it was going to hold a plebiscite. Shortly after, Wabush announced it would not be holding a vote, citing lack of public interest for the idea. Then, on June 11, Labrador City announced it was calling off its plebiscite because it wouldn’t make sense for just one community to hold one.
Social media has been abuzz with people concerned about the lack of a plebiscite, one of which is Rita Pynn. Pynn, Olga Payne and Amy Dumaresque organized a petition to bring to the next Wabush council meeting on June 20.
“We feel it’s our democratic right to vote and they’re taken that away from us,” Pynn told the Labrador Voice. “We don’t feel it’s correct for a town council of seven people to vote on behalf of all the people in Wabush.”
Pynn said they have reached out to Labrador City to see if it would consider holding the vote if they could get Wabush to reconsider, however, they haven't heard back yet.
They have been placing petitions at businesses around town, Pynn said, and have gotten a lot of signatures so far.
Amalgamation of the towns has been brought up time and again for many years, and Pynn said holding a vote would at least settle it once and for all.
“I’m not even saying I would vote for amalgamation,” she said. “Whether the vote turns out people want to amalgamate or not, at least we should have our democratic right to vote on it.”
Shayna Jewell, who lives in Wabush, agrees with Pynn and says they should be given the opportunity to vote and that it would at least settle the issue.
Jewell has been encouraging people to write to the town to voice their displeasure about the decision not to hold a plebiscite. She told the Labrador Voice people have been contacting her to get a copy of the letter she sent and she’s been happy to provide it as a form letter.
“I just don’t see why we wouldn’t hold a vote,” she said. “An issue this big shouldn’t be decided by council.”
Ron Barron, mayor of Wabush, said they are aware some residents aren’t happy with the decision but council just didn’t feel people were interested in amalgamating.
“We’ve been through a lengthy process here now, where we’ve engaged the residents; in March we had two consultation meetings,” he said. “We asked the residents specific questions and they told us they didn’t want it.”
Barron said the low turnout at the public consultations meetings – about 150 people between the two communities out of over 9,000 people – and the feedback they received at those meetings, told them people weren’t interested.
He spoke to many at the public meetings who wanted a vote just to vote against amalgamation, Barron said, and council didn’t see a reason to invest more time and money into the idea.
“There’s no appetite for this,” he said. “I know there’s talk of a petition going around, I know people are trying that. Why even consider the process? Residents have told us.”
Pynn said she attended the Wabush meetings and thought there was appetite for a plebiscite among people there. She knew people who didn’t go for various reasons, but weren’t aware it would determine if a plebiscite went ahead.
“A lot of people work shifts in this town, not everyone can make it out to meetings for a variety of reasons. If people knew that was going to mean there wasn’t a democratic vote more people would have attended. We’re not giving this up without a fight.”
Pynn is encouraging all Wabush residents to sign the petition and to attend the next council meeting on June 20.