Municipalities Act needs teeth: professor

Geoff Martin, an N.B. politicial scientist and former municipal councillor, says the province's municipality act needs to be overhauled so that city councils can be held to account when they break the rules.

Confusion about how Saint John's city council handled the Anglo Society flag debate underlines the need across New Brunswick for a provincial Municipalities Act with teeth, says a political scientist.

Geoff Martin, a political scientist at Mount Allison University and a former Sackville town councillor, said there needs to be increased enforcement of the act, which outlines the rules that municipal councils are supposed to follow.

Mayor Ivan Court recently said council had discussed, in private, the controversy surrounding the Anglo Society's request to have its flag fly outside city hall.

If true, this would be in violation of the Municipalities Act. The act lists reasons items can be discussed in private, but the exceptions are limited to land, legal, and labour issues. Everything else is supposed to be discussed under public scrutiny. 

Other councillors said the mayor was mistaken and that the flag issue was never discussed. Regardless of what was actually said behind closed doors, the fact remains that there's little New Brunswickers can do about it, Martin said.

Province has no power

As it stands, citizens can complain to the provincial ombudsman, but all the ombudsman can do is publicly say that the law has been violated. The only other options are to take the city to court or to vote the council out.

Thierry Arseneau with the Department of Local Government admitted the province can't enforce its own legislation governing municipalities.

"If somebody alleged that the municipality has done something that they were not supposed to do, we do not have the authority to investigate things like that," he said.

Arseneau said a committee is reviewing the act and may recommend changes in enforcement, but the report is not expected until this winter.