The provincial government has introduced new legislation to govern municipalities across the province, with an aim to put more power in the hands of small towns and communities.
The Towns and Local Service Districts Act went through its second reading in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, bringing it a step closer to royal assent.
John Haggie, minister of municipal affairs, said the changes were made after years of consultations with municipalities.
"It's a long-awaited piece of legislation," Haggie said. "Essentially it moves the legislation framework for towns and local service districts into a permissive frame. The towns have purposes. Under those purposes, they can make bylaws that are pretty wide-ranging."
One of the biggest proposed changes is a plan to eliminate poll taxes.
Haggie said Newfoundland and Labrador is the last province in Canada to have such taxes, which still exist in more than 40 communities.
But over a period of about 3 years, some of the fiscal and taxation changes - particularly around the shift away from poll tax - will come in. Then you'll start to see a change. - John Haggie
"A poll tax is generally regarded as regressive," Haggie said. "Everybody pays the same regardless of means or income. Now, towns can have options. They can either have a straight mill rate, based on assessment, or they could do a base rate and a much smaller mill rate."
Haggie said that change will give towns the flexibility to match their revenue requirements with their particular demographics.
Business tax has also changed for towns.
"It's optional," Haggie said. "Where it is imposed, they can pick classes of businesses that they want to tax more on, or less. So they can use incentives like tax breaks to bring businesses in."
Towns and local service districts will also now have the ability to operate recreational facilities. For years, some of the larger communities have been interested in this, Haggie said, but weren't allowed under the current act.
According to Haggie, the government is proposing for towns to have more flexibility when it comes to bylaws within their own communities.
Eleven ministerial approvals have been removed from the current act, giving municipalities more freedom and less red tape.
"I don't think that there's going to be a lot of noticeable change," Haggie said. "The roads that were plowed by the city or the town, or the highway department, will still be plowed that way. But over a period of about three years, some of the fiscal and taxation changes — particularly around the shift away from poll tax — will come in. Then you'll start to see a change."
PC MHA Chris Tibbs wants more time to review Bill 54. He said he was disappointed with the timing of its release. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)
The Opposition doesn't have much to say about the bill just yet, however Chris Tibbs, PC MHA for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, stood in the House of Assembly on Wednesday to voice his displeasure with the lateness of its delivery.
"Are there good things in it? Maybe. Are there bad things in it that people aren't going to like? Maybe. The fact that we got a 146-page, front and back, 350-section Bill 24 hours ago to go through and discuss with our caucus, with the Opposition, to figure out if it's going to be best for the people that we represent .... It's absolutely impossible and it's disgraceful."
Jordan Brown, NDP MHA for Labrador West, echoed the statements from Tibbs.
"It's disappointing that we don't have a real opportunity to take this back to our residents. In real simple words, great attention, poor execution."
NDP MHA Jordan Brown thinks there could be some good in the bill, but said he needs more time to review it. (CBC)
The proposed changes will not affect cities within the province, since they have their own pieces of legislation with the province.
But if the Towns and Local Service Districts Act is passed, Haggie said it will inform drafting of new legislation for Mount Pearl, Corner Brook and St. John's.