The New Brunswick government has made sweeping changes that will give more power to municipalities to govern themselves and attract business, which some say could create a divide between cities and smaller towns.
Enacted in the 1960’s, New Brunswick’s Municipalities Act and Community Planning Act were overdue for overhaul, according to government officials at both levels.
“The municipalities act in the 60s has been very restrictive,” explained Environment and Local Government Minister Serge Rousselle, who tabled new acts in the legislature Wednesday. “So they couldn’t do anything except what was exactly written in the act.”
“We call this municipal renewal,” said Fredericton Councilor Eric Megarity. “The government has finally brought this huge piece of legislation in and it’s up to the municipalities across New Brunswick to work with it and make things better.”
The Municipalities Act will be replaced by the Local Governance Act, and the Community Planning Act is getting total overhaul and reintroduction.
The province indicates these changes will give broader powers to municipal governments to enact bylaws without having to request legislative changes.
Also included in the legislation is the ability for businesses to engage in activities geared toward expanding their tax base, such as in-kind grants and providing land at below-market value to businesses.
New legislation a ‘race to the bottom’: Taxpayers Federation
The new acts aren’t being welcomed by all, though, and some critics say the move could present trouble for smaller towns.
“You’re going to see the communities that have the wherewithal to work with developers, you may see them pulling ahead of other smaller communities,” said Opposition Finance Critic Bruce Fitch.
“So again, creating that divide between large municipalities, small municipalities and the unincorporated areas.”
“One of the challenges of this bill is going to be that municipal governments will begin the game of handing out corporate welfare to corporations,” said Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“It’ll be a race to the bottom as they hand out incentives competing with other municipalities to get these businesses to come to their cities.”
Rousselle, who received applause from both the gallery as well as floor of the legislature upon introducing the new acts, said they’ll continue collaborating with local governments on these new pieces of legislation.
“We’ll be working with the municipalities up until Jan. 1 to better know what they can and cannot do.”