Local governance minister determined to tackle municipal reform
Forced amalgamation of rural areas isn't on the table yet, says Daniel Allain
New Brunswick's new local government minister is committing to reviewing the province's local government system.
This comes after the province's Francophone municipalities association released a report calling for widespread municipalization in the province.
Local Government and Local Governance Reform Minister Daniel Allain said he wants to see reform happen, and the addition of "local governance reform" to his department's title shows the government is serious about it.
"The objective is to make sure that we consult, we are transparent with the LSDs," said Allain.
"This is going to be a developing consultation with all stakeholders around the province and it's to ensure that we make sure that we evolve this system that has its roots from the 1960s."
System needs work
The association's report says the current system is unsustainable, inefficient and recommends the full municipalization of New Brunswick.
While the majority of New Brunswickers live in municipalities, a sizeable minority live in one of the province's 237 local service districts.
While LSDs have committees, the minister has the ultimate authority in the LSD.
Municipalities have long criticized the current LSD system, saying the system allows rural New Brunswickers to access services without having to pay for them through municipal taxes.
But rural residents counter that it's unfair to ask them to pay more in taxes when they don't receive the same level of service those in municipalities receive.
Allain said he doesn't see this as an issue of taxation but of services.
"The structure that we have now has not evolved and this structure has to evolve," said Allain.
"Some people are losing services."
All opposition parties agree on the need for municipal reform, but also share many concerns about how it would be handled.
Liberal Local Government Critic Keith Chiasson said consultations with affected communities will be key.
"People who live in LSD, they're worried that they're going to be swallowed up by these bigger municipalities and that … they're going to lose their identity," said Chiasson.
"On the other hand, I think we're at a place or at a time now wher we want new development, we need regional collaboration. So it's one of those things where, you know, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. "
Green Party Local Government Critic Kevin Arseneau said he lives in a rural community himself, and while the party supports municipal reform, it needs to be done fairly.
"People living in the rural parts of a local government can't be paying for sewer systems that they don't [and] never will have access to."
People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin agrees with the need for reform of municipal governance but thinks it needs to be combined with tax reform.
"it has to be done in such a way that it allows the cities that collect their current taxes to be able to keep more of their current taxes rather than passing them over to the province," said Austin.
"I have no issue with municipal reform and I understand it is necessary, but I just want to ensure that the taxation levels don't increase for those in rural areas."
The francophone group's report makes clear that regardless of what reform is done, it's important to have community buy-in.
And that may be tricky, since several attempts to create rural communities, a type of municipality, have been voted down or abandoned because of a backlash.
Allain said forced amalgamations are not yet on the table.
"Right now, we're not there," said Allain.
"I don't think we have talked about that. Nobody said that we would do it."
Allain said it's still too early to say when the province may get municipal reform, or what form it would take, but he expects action to be taken within this government's mandate and for consultations and discussion papers to happen in 2021.
With files from Radio-Canada