Group 'scared of' status quo for local governance

N.B.'s francophone municipalities association is concerned that Premier David Alward's government is backing away from a major reform of the fractured system of local governance.

The Alward government is expected to unveil its local governance reforms this fall

New Brunswick’s francophone municipalities association is concerned that Premier David Alward’s government is backing away from a major reform of the fractured system of local governance.

Kedgwick Mayor Jean-Paul Savoie, the president of the francophone municipalities association, said he believes the provincial government will opt for a package of local governance reforms that is close to the status quo.

Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch told the group's weekend conference that he wants a bottom-up process, with no change imposed by Fredericton.

Savoie said he believes Fitch’s statements are foreshadowing more of the same for local governance. 

"Talking like that means it is status quo. There is a will from people in regions for a change. They don't want status quo," Savoie said.

Savoie said there's a consensus among municipalities that reform is needed and he hopes the Alward government won't miss the opportunity.

The Alward government actively sought out a mandate to reform the local governance system.

Mid-way through the provincial election campaign, Alward said the province "can’t afford to allow the Finn report to sit on a shelf somewhere."

Jean-Guy Finn’s 2008 report called for a reduction of municipalities to 53 down from 101 municipalities and 267 unincorporated areas. Finn’s report would also group the municipalities into 12 regional service districts.

However, the Shawn Graham Liberal government shelved the contentious report immediately, saying it would be too costly to implement during an economic downturn.

The reforms came with an estimated pricetag of $88 million.

Alward said as recently as his state-of-the-province speech in January that he feels it is necessary to push forward with local governance reforms.

He said the more than 300 municipalities and unincorporated areas is "way too many. It’s unsustainable."

Fitch toured the province earlier this year consulting with citizens, municipal officials and groups about ways to better deliver local services.

The provincial government is promising to unveil its response to consultations later this fall.

The president of the francophone municipalities association said his organization had suggested alternatives to the Finn report, which recommended the creation of rural regional governments.

"Even if it's not Finn, they've got enough information from us, enough recommendations from us, to do a real reform," Savoie said.

"But we think from hearing the minister that it won't be a deep reform. It will be status quo, more or less. That's what we're scared of."

Fitch was unavailable for an interview to discuss Savoie’s comments.