The latest milestone in the long running process to overhaul New Brunswick’s municipal governance system was reached Tuesday with the release of a discussion paper.
Minister of local government and local government reform Daniel Allain released the green paper Tuesday morning, with an acknowledgement that the current system is in need of change.
“We need reform. It’s been 60 years we have touched it,” Allain said.
“If we don’t do anything, it could hamper the quality of our services and it could hamper economic development.”
The current system dates back to the 1960s, when an equalization system was introduced to ensure comparable services in municipalities across the province.
The green paper is intended to guide discussion and consultations over the next several months, with a final white paper to be released in the fall detailing proposed changes.
Allain said the government isn’t entering the process with any “preconceived notion” of what the changes will be, but says ensuring everyone in the province has local elected representation is a priority.
Right now 30 per cent of the population lives in a LSD, which have no mayor or council. Some have advisory committees, but all decision making power is left up to the province.
“Our objective is not to have that lack of representation continue” Allain said.
“I am right now the mayor and council for all these LSDs. These individuals don’t have the ability to vote on municipal governance.”
The move towards changing that and other broader issues is being applauded by the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB).
“Taxation needs to come with representation. We’re having conversations about who pays for what and how much, but that also has to include representation, who speaks for you, who gets a say, who gets to decide what it looks like at the end of the day,” said Margot Cragg, executive director of the UMNB.
“For the folks in LSDs it’s a fundamental question. They should have a voice and decide who is speaking for them.”
That conversation, about who pays for what, is important for some of the province larger municipalities. The Eight Cities Association has long been advocating for a better cost-sharing arrangement between the province’s cities and smaller neighboring communities.
The argument is that recreational facilities and other services provided and paid for by some municipalities are frequently used by those from neighbouring communities.
“The comprehensive tax reform piece is absolutely the most critical,” said Adam Lordon, mayor of Miramichi and president of the Eight Cities Association.
“You know, acknowledging and asking every New Brunswicker no matter where they live to pay their fair share and for the services they receive and in some cases that’s going to mean a realignment.”
The number of municipal entities in the province will also be looked at. There are now 340 municipal entities in the province, including cities, towns, villages and local service districts (LSD). The green paper notes that Nova Scotia, which has a larger population, has just 50 municipal units.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Allain told reporters that number needs to be lower and wouldn’t rule out forced amalgamation.
“We don’t want to force anything on anyone. However we know that the way it looks today has to change,” Allain said.
“We have too many entities and it’s really important to reduce the number of entities.”
Miramichi was one of the last communities to face forced amalgamation in the late 1990s, to great public outcry. But Lordon says he feels that the change was positive looking at what has happened in the city over the last 25 years.
“I do believe that we are better off. We’ve been able to work together around the river as one community. We’ve been able to pool our economic development resources, we’re not competing,” he said.
“We’re all in the same community now, we’re all working toward the same goal. Regardless of amalgamations that may or may not happen, regional collaboration is a very important part of this discussion.”