Mayor of Dalhousie pushes for an amalgamated Restigouche community

·5 min read
Dalhousie Mayor Normand Pelletier says there is little regional co-operation in the Restigouche region, and believes amalgamation is the only solution. (Bridget Yard/CBC  - image credit)
Dalhousie Mayor Normand Pelletier says there is little regional co-operation in the Restigouche region, and believes amalgamation is the only solution. (Bridget Yard/CBC - image credit)

Normand Pelletier says he's willing to be the last mayor of the town of Dalhousie.

"If need be, yes," he says. "I have no problem with that."

Pelletier is urging the Higgs government to fully amalgamate all municipalities and local service districts in the Restigouche area, whether everyone likes it or not.

He's been pushing for more regional co–operation for years but says he's been stymied time and again.

"No, we don't work well together," he says of the regional service commission in the Restigouche area. "I'm sorry, I'm going to be direct and straight. We have to be one municipality, one voice."

With the Progressive Conservative government committed to local government reform, he says this is the moment to create a single, large municipality.

"I'm not going to waste any more valuable oxygen trying to sell my case" for regional co–operation," he says. "It's amalgamation and that's it."

Daniel Allain, the Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform, says there must be change to the way local governance is done in the province.
Daniel Allain, the Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform, says there must be change to the way local governance is done in the province.(Ed Hunter/CBC News)

Earlier this month Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain released a discussion paper laying out options for overhauling the province's patchwork of 340 municipal governments and unincorporated local service districts.

It's meant to address a number of issues, including the chronic lack of coordination of services between neighbouring municipalities and rural areas.

Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin, who's not running for a new term, said she shares Pelletier's frustration with the lack of regional cooperation and supports a full merger, including her own city. "It's all or nothing," she said.

Pelletier, who has been acclaimed to another term as mayor in next month's election, is arguing that Premier Blaine Higgs can afford to go big in Restigouche County because there's no political downside for him there.

"He has nothing to lose. It's all Liberal ridings and he doesn't have any Conservatives up in this area, so go for it. Here's your opportunity."

Allain did not rule out imposing amalgamations when the report was released, though he insisted he has no specific solution in mind yet.

"What the mayor's explaining, we're hearing that across New Brunswick, that there's different structures, different scenarios that could happen," Allain said Friday of Pelletier's proposal.

"The mayor enumerated one scenario. I have no preconceived notion of how the final report will look, but I'm glad the mayor has expressed himself."

An organization representing local service districts says imposed amalgamations would not be acceptable.

"There's a debate to be had first," said Jules Bossé of the Union of Unincorporated Areas of New Brunswick, which is calling for elected LSD governments before there are any reforms.

Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin is not re-offering for the position, but agrees amalgamation is worth considering.
Campbellton Mayor Stephanie Anglehart-Paulin is not re-offering for the position, but agrees amalgamation is worth considering.(CBC)

The association also disputes the idea that local service districts are holding up regionalization of services.

Pelletier first sat on Dalhousie's town council from 1995 to 1998, at the same time the McKenna government imposed mergers to create the city of Miramichi and the expanded city of Edmundston.

"They've been flourishing," Pelletier says.

At the time, a merger of Dalhousie with three neighbouring villages was also discussed but never went ahead.

As mayor, he says he spent the last five years trying to get municipalities and local service districts to co–operate on issues ranging from the hiring of a development officer to cost-sharing for sports facilities used by everyone in the region.

He says he was "shot down" at every turn and now sees amalgamation as the best option for a region with a declining population.

"It's time for us to come together as one voice," he says. "It's a no-brainer."

Support for change?

The merger Pelletier envisions would include the city of Campbellton, the town of Dalhousie, the villages of Atholville, Balmoral, Eel River Crossing, Charlo and Tide Head, as well as local service districts in the area.

Support for bold change is growing, according to Frédérick Dion of the province's francophone municipalities association.

At a recent meeting of the association, 79 per cent of delegates voted to urge the province to revive the recommendations of the 2008 Finn report on local government reform.

"That means a lot of mayors and councillors voted for the disappearance of their municipalities," Dion says.

The Finn report, immediately shelved by the Liberal government of the day, urged the creation of 53 municipal entities that would take in all existing urban and rural areas in the province. Regional services would be coordinated by 12 commissioners.

The PC government of David Alward adopted the regional commissions in 2012, but their weighted voting system has created stalemates between municipalities and local service districts on many key issues.

Dion said while many mayors and councillors were resistant to the Finn model in 2008, more and more of them see it as necessary.

"The thinking has changed," he says. "Our governance structure no longer responds to our needs."

Pelletier said while he's convinced full amalgamation is the best answer for Restigouche, he doesn't necessarily think it should be imposed province-wide.

"A single model would be nice, but some areas are different," he said.

This week the francophone municipal association said it was concerned after Allain seemed to suggest in a newspaper interview that he was open to different local government reforms in different parts of the province, with as many as 10 to 12 kinds of municipal entities.

That would defeat the purpose of simplifying and streamlining the system, Dion says. "If we go there it won't work."

But Allain says he was referring to his discussion paper laying out 10 or 12 different structures that could be looked at, "not necessarily" to the idea of all of them existing at the same time.