Suburban communities around Saint John say amalgamation is not the answer to financial difficulties, even as the province says it will encourage more municipal mergers.
As part of the budget process, New Brunswick Finance Minister Roger Melanson has said the government will try to encourage smaller communities to join larger ones.
Many of the people who live in communities that surround Saint John make their living in the city. The idea of making a single large municipality goes back many years and has always been contentious — and the suburban communities still believe it’s not the answer.
Quispamsis Mayor Murray Driscoll said amalgamation is “of no interest” to the people he talks to.
“Amalgamation is of no interest to the people I talk to,” he said, adding that he doesn’t even want to use that word. “Let’s look at more of where we can enhance co-operation and collaboration, where we can do things together in small pieces.”
The mayor of Grand Bay-Westfield, which is on the other side of Saint John, said the city should also see amalgamation as a nonstarter.
“To just keep getting creating this larger property of which you’re going to be required to supply the service you already talk about are too expensive for your own residents,” said Grace Losier. “How do you really understand that there’s a savings there?”
“The city needs people. New Brunswick needs people. We need more taxpayers.”
Former Saint John mayor and councillor Ivan Court spoke in favour of a merger during a recent strategic review session in the city. He hasn’t changed his mind and said other cities in the province face the same challenges.
“People want to work in their communities, but don’t want to live in them,” he said. “We’re closing schools. Look at what’s happening in in Saint John.”
If amalgamation doesn’t go through, Court feels the other two levels of government need to make things right with the cities.
“They have to be properly funded by the federal and provincial government to meet the infrastructure demands of the people who work here,” he said.
Driscoll said forcing the issue might be the only way the government can get it done.
“I don’t see any other way because I don’t believe our people want it,” he said.