NB opposition parties question rush on municipal reform

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson

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.”

Democratic voice

People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin

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.

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4 Responses to NB opposition parties question rush on municipal reform

  1. Michael Gallant says:

    Our MLA has been completely silent on this issue. Surely she has something to say on the municipal reform affecting her constituency? Has she been muzzled by her own party (you know, the party that promised to do politics differently)? I predict that she’ll be “unexpectedly absent” from the legislature vote on this.

    Update from Bruce Wark: Thanks for your comment Michael. Megan Mitton spoke today in the legislature on the government’s municipal reform plan and I’ll be reporting on her speech soon.

  2. Dodie Perkin says:

    If the provincial government will now have the authority to make and amend bylaws, determine the location of the municipal government, formulate the budgets, and hire the staff, what exactly is going to be the actual function of the municipal government?

    • Sharon Hicks says:

      Dodie – you’re right … we’ve both read the White Paper AND the Governance Reform Bill, and we’re both asking the same question – what will be the purpose of municipal governments?

      In addition to the items you mentioned, the Province will also be looking after Economic Development and Tourism, along with hiring CAOs and Clerks for municipalities, deciding voting boundaries and the number of Councillors reeded for each municipality, union contracts for municipal staff – which includes not only wages & pensions but hiring / weeding out / reassigning / replacing as they think is needed, remuneration levels for Mayor & Councillors, and more.

      Then in future they say they will be ‘looking at’ adding things like policing, fire departments, recreational facilities, emergency services, and more.

      And here’s the kicker … in the Municipal Reform Bill there is an item which would give ‘the Minister’ the authority to implement future municipal changes without even the need for a feasibility study. In short, they are legislating ‘complete control’ by the Provincial Government, over all municipalities.

      Michael asked why our local MLA has been silent on all this. One can ask the same question about our local officials … the last we heard from the Mayor, Council and Staff are still ‘working on a reply’ to the White Paper, which was released 2 weeks ago, while the Municipal Reform Bill is already before the Provincial Legislature, for voting. They are too late – the train has left the station.

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