New Brunswick’s opposition parties are questioning why the Higgs government is moving so fast to enact sweeping legislation on municipal reform.
“We feel as though this is a rushed reform and it’s imposed on people,” Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson said today during debate in the provincial legislature.
He added that New Brunswickers haven’t had a chance to understand all of the changes that the province is trying to make.
Chiasson, who represents the riding of Tracadie-Sheila, was referring to the 128-page bill that the government introduced yesterday with the aim of getting it passed before Christmas.
Among other things, the legislation would impose forced municipal amalgamations such as one merging the town of Sackville with the village of Dorchester and their surrounding local service districts.
The bill would also set November 28, 2022 as the date for the election of a new council and would give Daniel Allain, minister of local government reform the power to:
- decide where and when the new council would meet after it takes office on January 1, 2023
- make or amend the bylaws of the amalgamated municipality
- prepare its first budget
- appoint municipal staff and decide their rates of pay, reassigning staff where necessary, overseeing retirements or terminations with proper notice and implementing a pension plan for permanent employees
Chiasson said municipal reform is long overdue and all parties support it, but added that more consultation with community leaders, municipal representatives and members of the public is essential.
He also described the government’s three-and-a-half week timetable for passing the bill as “completely unreasonable.”
Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance, said he felt torn because, on the one hand, municipal reform could help smaller communities pay for local services especially if they become part of a municipality with a minimum $200 million tax base.
But, he said, he could not ignore the deficiencies in the government’s reform plan.
“I certainly can’t support forced amalgamation on communities that have proven and shown that on their own, they can hit the $200 million tax base,” Austin said.
“How can the provincial government push on these local areas ‘you’re going to do this?'” he asked. “Where’s the democracy in that?”
Austin noted that the government reforms would give democratic representation to people in local service districts, but ironically would take it away from others through forced amalgamations.
“Don’t rush these boundaries. Look at them, be reasonable about them,” he urged, adding that the government should leave municipalities alone if they have a healthy tax base.
“Why force something that doesn’t need to be forced?”
Kevin Arseneau of the Green Party also called for more consultation and urged the province to ensure that local communities have the resources they need to govern themselves.
After debate on second reading, the government’s legislation will go before an all-party committee for further study.