A rookie member of the legislature from the Miramichi area is giving notice that he's not going to go along to get along on a major infrastructure project.
Mike Dawson, elected as a Progressive Conservative in the Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin byelection in June, is already clashing with Miramichi Mayor Adam Lordon.
He wrote an open letter accusing Lordon of misleading residents on claiming all three PC MLAs in the area support the proposed $58 million multiplex in the city.
"It wasn't the truth at all, and it wasn't what happened in the meeting at all," Dawson said in an interview at the legislature.
Lordon was quoted in the Miramichi Leader that after a meeting between city council and the three MLAs, council was "very encouraged by the support they demonstrated for the multiplex."
Shared concerns with mayor
Dawson said he told Lordon he's against the proposed centre and doesn't believe the estimated cost, which dates back to 2021 before inflation rates took off, is realistic.
"Something's not going to get done, or something's going to be over-budget and taxpayers are going to pay at the end of the day. And they keep saying taxes aren't going to increase," he said.
The estimated cost of a new multipurpose recreational facility in Caraquet, the Centre régional des générations, has risen from the original $15 million to a potential $25 million as of last month.
Lordon said the city scaled back its plan last year to keep the cost at $58 million, and if inflation since then further drives up the cost, "we will have to look at that."
The multiplex would include a pool, ice surface and gym as well as a community meeting space.
The city has committed $20 million to the project and hopes the provincial and federal governments will provide the remaining $38 million. The city wants to get approval to use a federal-provincial infrastructure fund that must be committed by March 31.
The mayor said he didn't mean to suggest last week that Dawson was on board.
"I would never intentionally misrepresent the position of one of our MLAs or of anybody," he said.
He said he was trying to get across how "enthusiastic" council was after its meeting with the provincial members and said council will keep working with Dawson "to address his questions" about the project.
Those questions go beyond the cost and also touch on an element of the Higgs government's local government reforms: an attempt to impose a regional approach to recreational facilities in communities.
The MLA said Lordon wants taxes in outlying areas to go up to help cities pay for facilities used by non-residents. Dawson said user fees charged to non-city residents — what Miramichi does now — would be a better way to recoup those costs.
But under beefed-up regional service commissions, urban-rural disputes about the costs of facilities are supposed to be sorted out with some kind of cost-sharing mechanism.
Dawson is pointing to comments Lordon made on reform in a 2020 CBC News interview in his role as president of the Cities of New Brunswick.
In that interview, Lordon said people in local service districts were "not paying enough taxes" and "the definition of fairness [is] everybody paying for what they use."
Lordon says now that he was speaking at the time about reform overall, not this project.
"There is no expectation to anybody contributing to the capital cost of this project other than the City of Miramichi," he said.
He added that residents of Dawson's riding have contacted him to say they look forward to being able to use the multiplex.
The decision on how communities using a facility will share the ongoing operation costs for it is up to the provincial government as it continues to implement its reforms, the mayor added.
"I would encourage him to express those concerns with his colleagues as they develop their policies around regional cost-sharing," he said.
The province's 2021 white paper on reform said the government will "establish guidelines that will provide direction" to regional service commissions on cost-sharing, including how to identify which communities should be covered.
"Identified infrastructure costs will be shared based on a tax base and population formula," the report said, but only if the municipality where the facility is located agrees to an oversight committee, including all communities helping to pay.
Lordon said the city has been following the proper process on the multiplex, briefing provincial officials on the project, and it's "a peculiar situation" and disappointing that Dawson went public with his criticism rather than contacting him directly.
'I wasn't elected to help the City of Miramichi"
Dawson acknowledged his letter to the mayor was "confrontational" but defended his approach.
"I wasn't elected to help the City of Miramichi do anything," he said.
"I was elected to help the residents and constituents of Southwest Miramich Bay du Vin. … I'm not there to help the mayor. I'm not there to work with the mayor."
Regional Development Corporation minister Réjean Savoie, whose Miramichi Bay-Neguac riding includes part of the city and some outlying areas, said it was too early to decide which communities will fund the multiplex's operations.
But he defended Dawson's letter.
"The multiplex is under evaluation and he has the right to express his concerns," Savoie said.