Higgs government gives another big push to municipal reform bill

Minister of Local Government Reform Daniel Allain answering questions in the NB legislature

The comprehensive bill that would drastically restructure local government in New Brunswick could become law as early as next week.

The provincial legislature voted 26 to 18 today to limit the remaining time to consider Bill 82 making it all but certain that it will pass before the House adjourns for Christmas.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of the CBC, Minister of Local Government Reform Daniel Allain suggested he is still open to suggestions for changing his municipal reform plan if they are received before December 17th.

That could be important news for Sackville which strongly opposes the government’s plan to amalgamate the town with the Village of Dorchester and the local service districts that surround them.

“It may well be that the minister has all the power and can force his will on us, but we don’t have to sit back, smiling passively and say thank you,” Councillor Bill Evans said during last Monday’s town council meeting.

He spoke after Council voted 7 to 1 to send a strongly worded letter to Allain opposing forced amalgamation.

To read the town’s letter, click here.

Councillor Matt Estabrooks reads a statement on his support for municipal amalgamation. To read his full statement, click here

Councillor Matt Estabrooks was the lone dissenter arguing that amalgamation makes economic and geographical sense.

“I have watched our business community slowly fade over the years and the last two extremely hard years have become the end of the line for many of them,” Estabrooks said.

“It is not my vision to see Sackville left as a town with only one major employer and a few small local businesses that surround it. This reform is an opportunity to enact some positive change to ensure this does not happen,” he added.

However, his council colleagues said there were too many unanswered questions about what amalgamation would mean for municipal financing, taxes and services.

Councillor Sabine Dietz pointed out that Bill 82 would give the minister the power to decide everything from bylaws to budgets with no requirement for him to consult with local residents or their elected representatives.

“Sackville is culturally and economically healthy, a vibrant community with excellent finances and a small town identity,” she said.

“So why force us to take on areas that are less sustainable in this excessive manner?” she asked.

Council unanimously approved Dietz’s motion to establish a local municipal reform governance committee that will meet at least once a week to investigate the many implications of forced amalgamation and to make recommendations to council.

Committee membership will be open to all members of council.

To listen to Monday’s 32-minute council discussion on municipal amalgamation, click on the media player below.

This entry was posted in New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Higgs government gives another big push to municipal reform bill

  1. Open to Opportunity says:

    I am actually with Matt on this one. I have read the town’s position/response paper and the clearly defined concerns raised can be overcome with some thought and perhaps some hard work. They are not impossible to address. As a ‘new kind of small town’ I worry Sackville is in fact being regressive in this case, responding like a victim and being too myopic and too close-minded. The town is looking to the amalgamation and considering it from a position of defensiveness rather than one of opportunity. Once you go down this path of negativity, anger and woe, it is really hard for anyone to rise above it and see what it could be from a positive perspective.

  2. Kata List Productions says:

    Matt Estabrooks is the sort of level headed new politician the town really needs and understands things from the perspective of someone fresh to the job and not jaded by politics.. thanks for speaking up Matt… I tend to remain positive as well as I see more voices joined together around here as a really good thing for far too long the elite clique in Sackville have run a little too compliant into a stale and anti-growth mentality — good report Bruce.

  3. Les Hicks says:

    With regards to the comments from ‘Open to opportunity’ and ‘Kata List Productions’, both commenters appear to have missed some of the points that have been raised in Bruce’s reporting on the provincial government’s attempt to force amalgamation on various rural communities throughout the province.

    In Bruce’s Nov 25th article “LSD association president condemns NB municipal reform plan as undemocratic”, Jules Bosse, the president of the Association of Local Service Districts of New Brunswick, states that the province ignored the recommendations of his members which were submitted to the minister of local government in September, when it decided to amalgamate some LSDs with existing municipalities and group the rest into 12 rural districts. He further goes on to state that the association recognizes that some type of reform plan is needed, but is concerned that the province is trying to rush its reforms through without talking to the people who would be affected most.

    In Bruce’s Nov 23rd article “Experts urge ‘go-slow’ approach on municipal reform in New Brunswick”, Western University professor, and director of the Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance, Zachary Taylor, argues that New Brunswick should reform its 12 regional service commissions instead of resorting to what he terms forced municipalisation. He goes on to state that “you don’t have to have forced municipalisation for the system to work in order to have regional resource sharing, regional planning….” In his paper published last May on local government reform, coauthored with graduate student Jon Taylor, he argues that strengthening the province’s 12 Regional Service Commissions along the lines of longstanding regional districts in B.C. would be “much less disruptive than other potential options such as forced municipal incorporation and amalgamation.” Bruce provides a link to this study at the end of this article.

    In Bruce’s Nov 24th article “Mt. A. prof questions provincial motives for municipal reform”, Mount Allison professor, and former Sackville Town Councillor, Geoff Martin, who specializes in the study of local governments, explains that the provincial government’s motives for this forced amalgamation could include transferring some of its own costs to larger amalgamated municipal units such as the one that includes Sackville, the surrounding local service districts, and the Village of Dorchester. Professor Martin goes on to state that in such a scenario, “It will be the municipal sector that would be forced to raise taxes or cut services and not the provincial government.” He goes on to state that it appears that the province wants to ensure that there are no elected local governments in the sparsely settled rural districts so that resource extraction and industrial development could proceed unhindered. (Aside by me : remember that prior to entering politics, Premier Higgs had a career with the Irving Corporation and still has ties to the Irvings, according to a report in the on-line national news outlet, Canada’s National Observer : https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/09/16/news/man-irving)

    In the letter sent to Minister Allain by Sackville Town Council (link to letter provided by Bruce in his Dec 10th article “Higgs government gives another big push to municipal reform bill”, the various concerns that Town Council has with the forced amalgamation plan are clearly stated. One of the main objections is that the transitional powers provided to the provincial government in its White Paper, such as by-laws, tax rates, budgets and broad human resources-related functions are too wide-ranging and undemocratic. As many Town Councillors pointed out in their stated objections to the forced amalgamation during the Dec 6th Special Town Council meeting, (which is available for viewing on the town’s website), the White Paper provides too little detail and leaves too much to be worked out such as taxation, finance and administration, and municipal contracts.

    In addition to all of these points, it should be remembered that Minister Allain, in his previous discussions with various municipal governments, made a promise that there would be no forced amalgamation; a promise that he has since broken. This undemocratic move by the provincial government should by itself instill distrust and anger in the general public.

    Given all of the information provided in Bruce’s articles alone, I have to wonder if Councillor Estabrooks, ‘Open for Opportunity’, and ‘Kata List Productions’ have actually taken the time to research the available information on the pros and cons of the provincial government’s forced amalgamation plan.

    I also have to wonder, given the information provided in Bruce’s articles by researchers who specialize in municipal governments and reform, whether the provincial government has actually sought the advice of experts in this field or simply drawn up plans that they want to implement for their own advantage, without having done the research on the impacts of such plans. Considering the mess that the government has made of our provincial health care system with its poorly thought out centralization plans, I would guess that the latter is the case. I applaud our Town Council for finally taking a firm stand against the attempted destruction of our local hospital and health care system, and for their firm stand against this authoritarian, undemocratic attempt at forced amalgamation by the provincial government.

    • Kata List Productions says:

      I often think Les Hicks is purposely dismissing me and happily ignoring the fact he lives in place that actually has people who don’t go along with the status quo but they do not comment at this website as they might not even know it exists [so I put up posters for Warktimes.com to advertise this forum/site]… Les, perhaps you had to lift your head up and look around a little more widely and deeply Les? I bother to comment here [sometimes these comments do not get published for some reason] but its essential to build bridges with people even if I tend to disagree with them ideologically. How else would you unite people in the region that is now coming into existence called “Tantramar” — its bigger than the “Bubble” world of Sackville NB?

  4. Bfree says:

    I am with Matt on this and I would certainly trust the Minister over Sabine on issues of governance and taxation. Having lived in both the surrounding communities and Sackville her statement was just elitist nonsense.

Leave a Reply