Rural residents say province's local government reform will ruin lifestyle

·3 min read
Local Governance Reform Minister Daniel Allain launched a green paper on the ways local government might change. Local service district residents say they don't feel heard or included, and fear reforms will lead to higher taxes. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Local Governance Reform Minister Daniel Allain launched a green paper on the ways local government might change. Local service district residents say they don't feel heard or included, and fear reforms will lead to higher taxes. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

The province's plan to reform local governments and possibly amalgamate smaller communities is being called rural erasure by two local service district residents.

Mary Ann Coleman, chair of the advisory committee for the local service district of Waterford, said LSDs don't want to be forced to amalgamate, and going forward with reform during the COVID-19 pandemic would mean going forward without rural input.

"To have this process just pushed through when we're in a pandemic, when there can't be meetings, there can't be proper consultation ... basically rural voices will be shut out, won't be heard," Coleman said in an interview with Information Morning Saint John.

On Tuesday Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain said it's possible he could impose reforms over the objections of communities.

A green paper released this week says there are 340 cities, towns, villages, rural communities, regional municipalities and local service districts in the province. Allain said that's too many.

"We don't want to force anything on anyone. However we know that the way it looks today has to change," he told reporters that day.

'We're fine'

The green paper says previous amalgamations have improved service delivery.

Ray Riddell, who lives in the Westfield West local service district, said people who live in rural areas don't want more services, and prefer the tax savings of living outside of municipalities or towns.

"We are out here living in the rural area as a matter of choice. We're happy with no sidewalks and no street lighting and none of the items that are in Grand Bay-Westfield or in Saint John, for that matter," Riddell said.

"We're fine."

Instead of rural communities and the rural lifestyle being seen as an asset ... basically they're trying to erase it -Mary Ann Coleman, Waterford LSD

Municipalities and towns have their own local governments that advocate on their behalf.

LSDs are unincorporated entities, and have to go directly to the minister if they have complaints or needs. Riddell says that process is working for him.

"Thirty per cent of the local service districts do not have an advisory committee. And why is that? That's because they're happy. If they were unhappy, they'd get a committee, they'd petition the minister and they'd ask for services," he said.

Riddell said a significant amalgamation would "destroy rural living."

"We have police protection, we have garbage pickup, we have fire protection, and that's it."

Coleman said she's not against reforming the system, but as it is built now, it does not support local decision making for LSDs.

She prefers giving the smaller communities more power, which she said is basically the opposite of what the province is proposing.

"Instead of rural communities and the rural lifestyle being seen as an asset and being boosted by this paper, I see it more as being basically they're trying to erase it," she said.