New Brunswick

New municipalities face tight deadlines for decisions on councils, wards and names

Newly created or expanded municipalities across New Brunswick are facing tight timelines to make decisions about how their residents will be represented in the coming years.

Province says timelines necessary to achieve further steps in reform plan and fall municipal elections

The Village of Alma from Fundy National Park. The community will become part of a larger municipality along with the villages of Riverside-Albert and Hillsborough as part of local governance reform in 2023. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Newly created or expanded municipalities across New Brunswick have just several days to decide how many councillors their new communities will have and whether to use ward systems, a timeline that's raised alarm with some community leaders. 

The Village of Alma in southeastern New Brunswick posted a letter on its Facebook page saying staff in the village of about 220 learned last Friday of a closed-door meeting taking place Wednesday with a provincially appointed facilitator.

The letter says decisions on council composition, use of wards and potential ward boundaries would need to be decided by Friday.

The village will become part of Entity 42 with Riverside-Albert, Hillsborough and other previously unincorporated areas as part of local governance reforms.

Dan Murphy, the executive director of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, says a similar situation is unfolding across the province. 

"It's certainly of a big concern to a lot of municipalities that I've talked to across the province," Murphy said Tuesday about the timeline.

"It's not a lot of time and I think a lot of municipal leaders would like to have the opportunity to discuss with their citizens, and discuss with the other communities that are coming together, to try and make a good decision for their future entity."

Vicky Lutes, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Local Government, said the timelines are required so other aspects of the reform process can be completed in time.

Province implementing reform plan

Under the province's local governance reforms approved by the legislature in December, the number of local government entities will be slashed from 340 to 90 in January 2023. Several areas are being forced to amalgamate. 

Earlier this year the province named facilitators who will work with communities through the transition, including decisions on council composition, whether to use ward or at-large systems, ward boundaries and municipality names

When the reform plan was outlined, each community, including those like Riverview with borders left untouched, were given temporary names like Entity 35. 

The newly established municipalities will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Elections to fill council seats in many of the newly formed communities will take place in November. Elections won't take place in some New Brunswick municipalities left largely untouched by the reforms. 

Sackville, N.B., Mayor Shawn Mesheau outside town hall on Sept. 22, 2021. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Sackville has previously raised concerns about the reform implementation timeline. 

"We felt the timelines were very aggressive overall in seeing this through, to announce these changes at the end of November of 2021 and the expectation for it to be in place by January of 2023," Mayor Shawn Mesheau said Tuesday. 

The town was expecting to have to reach its decisions on council makeup by the end of the week, but a meeting with its facilitator has been pushed to Feb. 15. 

Mesheau said the rapid timeline may be an attempt to have everything ready for Elections New Brunswick to hold municipal elections in newly formed communities in November.

Lutes, the provincial spokesperson, said to meet the election timeline, ward maps must be submitted by March 4.

Mesheau said a newly elected council could then opt to review decisions around council composition and use of wards. 

"At that point in time, the opportunity exists for them to make additional changes," he said. "So, you know, this isn't something that's going to be in place forever."

Sackville will be merged with Dorchester and other previously unincorporated areas, temporarily named Entity 40 until a new name is picked. 

According to a timeline on the town's website, a decision on the name is among the choices expected to be made by late February or early March.