Disappointment and relief as N.B. tweaks some municipal boundaries

·3 min read
Lac Baker, population 750, will merge with Haut-Madawaska in 2023.  (Alexandre Silberman/CBC News  - image credit)
Lac Baker, population 750, will merge with Haut-Madawaska in 2023. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC News - image credit)

There was disappointment and relief in various New Brunswick communities this week as the province announced which requests for changes to local governance boundaries it would accept, and which it rejected.

The province issued a list Tuesday afternoon with dozens of changes.

Many move portions or whole local service districts from one local entity to another, while other more substantive changes include the creation of a new community from multiple LSDs in Kings County, north of Sussex.

Several communities that had voiced opposition to forced amalgamations with neighbouring centres did not see their requests reflected in the adjustments.

"I was - and the council was - very much disappointed," Lac Baker Mayor Roseline Pelletier said in an interview.

CBC
CBC

The community of 750 in the province's northwest will become part of Haut-Madawaska in January 2023. It had sought status quo to retain local control.

"We were confident that we proved with data that we were well off, we didn't need government money … we thought we had good arguments to make the government change its mind about amalgamating us with the other community."

There was also disappointment in Minto and Chipman, which opposed the province's plan to merge the central New Brunswick villages.

Mayor Erica Barnett in a letter to residents posted on Facebook said she had been excited about local governance reform when it was announced.

"I trusted the process, I believed that government would listen to local leaders and take the input we provided," Barnett wrote.

"Clearly that has not been the case. This has made council completely lose trust and faith in the process and in our government."

Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada
Guy LeBlanc/Radio-Canada

Meanwhile in Kent County, a proposal to merge communities the province initially planned to keep separate was approved.

The pitch called for merging the Town of Richibucto, Village of Saint-Louis-de-Kent, as well as the local service districts of Saint-Ignace, Aldouane, Saint-Charles and most of the LSD of Saint-Louis-de-Kent.

Saint-Louis-de-Kent Mayor Danielle Dugas welcomed the approval of the request.

"The old scenario was that we remained two small municipalities among all the rest of the large municipalities, so for us, it was just natural to ask to join together," Dugas told Radio-Canada. "We are nonetheless a community with common interests, people go to Richibucto, come to Saint-Louis, we share schools, sports and our infrastructure."

Sackville and Dorchester had opposed the forced amalgamation of the communities. Both wrote to Daniel Allain, minister of local governance reform, calling for more time and a reconsideration of the plan.

Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau said in an interview both communities still have many unanswered questions about how the merger will work. He said the town wasn't flatly opposed to expansion of its borders.

"The biggest concern was the feeling of being pushed into this, it being a forced amalgamation," Mesheau said.

In Lac Baker, the village is planning a community meeting Dec. 28 to hear from residents about what their next steps should be.

Bernard LeBel/Radio-Canada
Bernard LeBel/Radio-Canada

The mayor, Pelletier, said about 80 per cent of residents had already signed a petition opposing the amalgamation but that was seemingly ignored by the province.

The village falls below a viability threshold of 4,000 people and a $200 million tax base the government used for stand-alone municipalities.

But Pelletier said there are other small communities like Fredericton Junction and Tracy left alone, making her question whether it was a political decision.

"We don't understand the decision. We feel that we have exactly what we need here — a government that would make local decisions on local issues. I would like government to understand how important it is to have that."

Allain, in a news release about the changes the province accepted, said the government "made adjustments to some proposed restructuring plans if they are consistent with the guiding principles of the reform."

A bill to enact much of the province's sweeping local governance reform passed in the legislature last week and received royal assent. New community boundaries are expected to be in place by January 2023.

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