There was great debate leading up to and following the amalgamation of the Halifax Regional Municipality in 1996.

Now, 17 years later, the issue is coming up again, but this time people are calling for de-amalgamation.

“I think we live in a family of natural communities, large and small,” says petition organizer John Wesley Chisholm. “Nobody lives in HRM. We all live in Musquodoboit Harbour, Bedford, or Elmsdale.”

Chisholm believes communities have suffered since amalgamating.

“The big-boxification of government kind of took the heart out of a lot of those communities,” says Wesley.

Chisholm has started an online petition in the hopes of generating discussion for de-amalgamation. He is also asking Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to revisit the issue.

“This is a product of the provincial government under the Municipal Government Act and that’s where we would have to go to even begin to crack this open and talk about it,” says Chisholm.

However, McNeil says he doesn’t believe communities within the municipality have lost their identity and that his government isn’t looking at de-amalgamation at this point.

“When I’m going to Bedford, I still say I’m going to Bedford. When I go to Dartmouth, I still say I’m going to Dartmouth,” says McNeil.

“We’re prepared to work with municipalities but this is going to be a true partnership we are not going to be forcing upon municipalities, whether it’s HRM or any other municipality in the province.”

HRM Mayor Mike Savage says he’s always open to discussion but he’s interested in moving forward, not back.

“One of the things that was really the cause of amalgamation back in the day was, you had Halifax business parks competing with Dartmouth business parks. We need to work together,” says Savage.

Tim Bousquet, news editor of The Coast, covers City Hall for the alternative newsweekly. He believes things are slowly moving in the right direction and doesn’t believe de-amalgamation is the answer.

“The one thing that we have now is we have a regional government, amalgamated government, where the tax issues in each community aren’t in competition with every other community, and that will change in de-amalgamation,” says Bousquet.

“I think we’ve got to get smarter about how we do this regional government. There’s lots of problems with it, I’m not saying it’s perfect, but to turn our back on it at this point is foolhardy.”

However, Chisholm says what was promised with amalgamation isn’t being delivered.

“Smaller, lighter, more efficient government. It didn’t happen.”

He hopes his online petition will generate discussion and perhaps even lead to change.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster