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N.B. ‘paternalistic’ local governance bill panned by municipal groups

Click to play video: 'Some councillors in N.B. speak out against province’s Bill 45, say it undermines municipal authority'
Some councillors in N.B. speak out against province’s Bill 45, say it undermines municipal authority
WATCH: Municipalities throughout New Brunswick are voicing their concerns surrounding a new bill that would allow the local government minister to repeal bylaws. The province said the bill is intended to create a local government commission to provide support for municipalities, but Silas Brown has more on why some say parts of Bill 45 is "undemocratic." – May 24, 2023

A number of municipal groups in New Brunswick are raising concerns about a bill that would give the minister of local government the power to amend or repeal municipal bylaws.

The Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB), l’Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick and the Cities of New Brunswick Association say the bill is an attack on local autonomy.

“It really feels like an undermining of municipal authority in this case and that’s of great concern to our members,” said UMNB executive director Dan Murphy.

Bill 45, or the Local Governance Commission Act, is intended to create a new body that will oversee conflict of interest and code of conduct complaints, as well as help municipalities reach funding agreements over regional facilities.

Murphy said the creation of the commission itself is positive and something the members of the UMNB have been asking for, but the ability of the minister of local government to repeal or amend bylaws passed by democratically elected councils is extremely concerning.

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“Our local councils are elected by the people, they have a mandate to do the work in their communities,” he said. “When bylaws are passed they follow a public process, there’s a legislative process in place for them.”

Local government minister Daniel Allain said in a statement that the clause is intended to protect against unintended harms of provincial significance. “The authority to amend or repeal bylaws is about providing a backstop to unintended consequences that would have impacts that are irreversible and provincially significant,” he said.

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“We don’t have to look far to see councils that made or were planning to make decisions that could hamper jobs, the economy and people’s way of life. There is a robust process for reviewing a bylaw, and that work should not be taken lightly.  Repealing a bylaw would certainly be a last resort for my department.”

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That explanation doesn’t cut it for Fredericton mayor Kate Rodgers.

“Even that feels paternalistic,” she said of minister Allain’s response.

Rodgers said that there are plenty of safeguards already in place and there’s no need to interfere with the work of democratically elected councils. And while the intentions of the current government might be pure, she says, there’s nothing to stop the clause from being abused by a future provincial government.

“Without the clarification, if not this government, there could be another government that takes advantage of the lack of clarity in that bill and it does undermine municipal authority,” she said.

On Tuesday night Fredericton council voted to send a letter Allain voicing concerns and seeking clarification.

Allain said he plans to address the concerns raised by municipalities and will outline more details of the bill when it receives scrutiny by a legislative committee on Friday.

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