'Little consensus' on how to reform local governance, report says

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Daniel Allain, New Brunswick's minister of local governance reform, says more consultation meetings will take place before the province issues another report on how it will implement reforms.  (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Daniel Allain, New Brunswick's minister of local governance reform, says more consultation meetings will take place before the province issues another report on how it will implement reforms. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

There was little agreement during consultations about how to change local governance in New Brunswick, according to a report released by the New Brunswick government Thursday.

The Progressive Conservatives committed to overhaul the local governance system that has remained largely the same since the Equal Opportunity Program in the 1960s.

The reform effort launched this year with a series of consultations mostly held online because of the pandemic.

The 18-page "what we heard" report doesn't say how the province will proceed with reforms, details that are expected to be part of a future "white paper" this fall.

Instead, the report offers brief summaries of input from around 1,100 people who took part in 25 meetings in recent months, as well as online surveys completed by more than 1,200 people.

'Little consensus on the right approach'

"While the general consensus was that reform needs to happen, there was little consensus on the right approach," the report states.

In general, the report says participants said the province has too many local governance entities, that changes are required to the property tax and assessment systems to make them fairer and increase transparency, and establish local representation for local service districts where the province makes decisions.

The province has 340 local entities, including eight cities, 26 towns, 61 villages, eight rural communities, one regional municipality and 236 local service districts, a previous report issued ahead of the consultations states.

Daniel Allain, the province's minister of local governance reform, has said he wants to ensure those living in rural areas where there's no municipal or local government have elected representation empowered to make decisions for their area.

In an interview, Allain said the white paper with the province's approach should be released in November or December, with some of the legislation to implement reforms expected to be introduced this year.

"I think right now we're still looking at pretty much everything," Allain said when asked if any options are no longer being considered based on the consultations.

He said the province wants more feedback on some subjects. It plans to hold eight additional in-person consultation meetings between Sept. 14 and Sept. 29.

Asked if the province is ruling out forced amalgamations, Allain said nothing has been ruled out.

"Forcing amalgamations is a subject which people ask me every time," he said. "'Are you going to force us to amalgamate and are you going to raise my taxes?'

"The question is yes and no. At the end of the day, we're not going to force people to do anything they don't want, but we know one thing: We have to reduce the number of entities in New Brunswick."

The report highlights areas where it says local leaders are already discussing restructuring. Those include:

  • Village of Stanley and the local service districts of Saint Mary's, Estey's Bridge, and Stanley.

  • Local service districts of Douglas, Keswick Ridge, Bright, and a portion of the local service district of Queensbury.

  • Town of Caraquet, Village of Bas Caraquet, Village of Bertrand, Village of Maisonnette, Village of Grande-Anse, Village of Saint-Léolin, the local service districts of Pokesudie, Saint-Simon, Blanchard Settlement, Évangéline, Poirier, Dugas, Anse Bleue, and a portion of the local service districts of Pokemouche, Landry Office, parish of Caraquet, and New Bandon.

  • Town of Grand Falls, Village of Drummond, and the rural community of St. André.

  • City of Campbellton, Town of Dalhousie, local service districts of McLeods, Dalhousie Junction, Pointe la Nim, and a portion of the local service district of Dalhousie.

  • Rural community of Cocagne and the local service districts of Grande-Digue, Shediac River and Dundas.

  • Village of Alma, Village of Riverside-Albert and Village of Hillsborough and the local service districts of Hillsborough, Harvey, Hopewell and Alma. Alternatively, there are discussions to combine those communities with the Town of Riverview.

  • Village of St. Martins with the local service districts of Simonds, Fairfield and St. Martins.

  • Village of Bath, Town of Florenceville-Bristol, Village of Centreville, local service districts of Glassville, Upper Kent, Wicklow, Peel, Wilmot, Lakeville and portions of the local service districts of Aberdeen, Kent and Simonds.

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A group representing local service districts recently released a report saying its members support changes to LSD governance.

"We agree with reform, but it has to be well done and it meets all of the needs to be fulfilled," said Jules Bossé, president of the Association of Local Service Districts of NB.

Bosse said the group is also seeking more clarity on where revenues collected by the province are spent, particularly when it comes to roads.

"We all want to pay our fair share, but we feel we pay more than our fair share for the roads," he said.

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