Cities in New Brunswick want new powers to govern what happens inside their boundaries and officials are hoping a review of the Municipalities Act is a step in the right direction.
The Department of Local Government will be reviewing the act over the summer. Minister Bruce Fitch plans to present the findings in September.
"There could be need for changes in legislation as we go forward. I would definitely expect that," Fitch said.
'There could be need for changes in legislation as we go forward. I would definitely expect that.' —Minister of Local Government Bruce Fitch
"The act itself, there may be changes to that. Whether it be scrapping the whole act and going back to square one, right at this point in time…we don't have any pre-conceived ideas what's going to happen at the end."
Fitch did say, however, that legislation could be passed as early as this fall.
Prescriptive vs. permissive
Cities have been seeking changes that would allow councils to more easily regulate, license and set fees within their boundaries.
The current legislative authority in New Brunswick is prescriptive, so cities can only do what the Municipalities Act specifically stipulates they can do. For example, the act states cities can regulate dogs, but does not mention cats, so cities can't regulate cats.
"The legislative process causes delays, requires considerable administrative effort, clouds responsibility for local issues and also necessitates the exercise of political will by another level of government that is not confronted by these local issues on a daily basis," Saint John city manager Pat Woods stated in a recent report to council.
He cites the recent example of Saint John having to lobby Fredericton for years for the right to quickly tear down derelict buildings that threaten public safety.
Council unanimously voted this week to advocate for a new, so-called permissive system, one already enjoyed by city councils in other provinces, such as Manitoba.
"Let's advocate, let's put it in writing," said Coun. Donnie Snook. "Let's do everything that we know to do."
Under the permissive system, municipalities are given spheres of jurisdiction, which gives councils broader authority to govern their municipality in whatever way they consider appropriate, without stepping on the toes of the provincial or federal governments.
Several reports have been written about the shortcomings of the current prescriptive legislation, including the Municipal Review Advisory Committee, the Municipalities Act Review Committee and the recent Finn Report.