The Higgs government’s plan for municipal reform is coming under fire from a group that represents nearly a third of the province’s population and more than 80% of its land area.
Jules Bosse, president of the Association of Local Service Districts of New Brunswick, says the province ignored the recommendations of his members when it decided to amalgamate some LSDs with existing municipalities and group the rest into 12 rural districts.
“We recognize that we need a reform plan,” Bosse said Wednesday during a telephone interview. “This is a must.”
But, he added, the province is trying to rush its reforms through without talking to the people who would be affected most.
“We feel right now that because of the negligence of governments in the last 50 years, they’re pushing it fast,” he says, “and without enough consultation.”
He adds that the government has completely ignored the association’s recommendations submitted to the minister of local government in September.
In its 15-page Blueprint for Suburban and Rural Local Governance Reform, the association calls for the “right to democracy” denied to LSD residents since the 1970s.
Under the government’s plan, for example, LSD residents in the areas surrounding Sackville and Dorchester would have the right to elect municipal representatives.
But Bosse worries that the new municipality would swallow up the LSDs and not adequately reflect their unique concerns.
He condemns the government plan to group other LSDs into big rural districts that would elect advisory councils while the provincial government continues to run their affairs from Fredericton.
“This is nonsense. When you do a reform, you don’t do one like this,” he says. “We can’t wait another 50 years to bring democracy to the LSDs.”
In a separate report, submitted to the minister this month, the association outlines a plan for 16 LSDs in northwestern New Brunswick that it says could serve as a template for the whole province.
It calls for grouping those LSDs into what it calls a “regional co-operative community” with a population of nearly 13,000 and a tax base of almost $900 million.
“The new entity would be more populous than most of the current cities in New Brunswick and would have a tax base at least three times larger than the majority of the current largest villages and even larger than the smallest city, Campbellton,” the report says.
It adds that the regional community could be divided into four wards of about 3,000 residents each with one or two councillors elected in each ward and a mayor for the whole territory.
Way of life
Bosse says the small-scale local economies of LSDs aren’t valued highly enough in the government’s municipal reform plan.
“We’re going to lose our way of life,” he says pointing to the contributions of rural residents to what the association’s brief calls “stewardship of ecosystem services and nature-based recreation.”
It also calls for more provincial investment in rural areas:
There is every indication that the lack of democratic governance of the LSDs, coupled with the centralization of power and services, has contributed to a decline in food self-sufficiency, the virtual disappearance of the cooperative movement, and an economy that is less diversified and accessible to LSD residents – in short, a general impoverishment of the province.
The association’s brief also asks whether it’s fair that the 33% of New Brunswickers who live in LSDs receive less than 20% of the federal gas tax fund and only 7% of provincial equalization payments.
Bosse says that since the province ignored the latest recommendations for re-organizing LSDs and giving them full democratic rights, residents should be given the chance to choose between the government’s plan and the association’s proposal for regional co-operative communities.
“OK, what we’re saying right now is we’ve got two proposals on the table,” Bosse says, “well, let’s have a plebiscite on both and let the people decide.”
To read the Blueprint for Suburban and Rural Local Governance Reform, click here.
To read the association’s proposal for a Regional Co-operative Community in Northwestern New Brunswick, click here.