Stop the insanity

Some folks, notably the Times & Transcript (surprise surprise) believe that any attempt to have a more rational approach to municipal government in this province is an attack on rural New Brunswick. 

That’s hogwash.  The Finn report was a sensible report with an interesting approach that should have been at least considered rather than shelved within 30 minutes of publication.  As Finn rightly pointed out, we have had dozens of reports over the years on a more sane model and have done nothing about it.  Why are New Brunswick politicians so afraid and gutless to make any change that might cause even a bit of political pain?

To Al Hogan I say this.  The current model of LSDs, tiny municipalities, economic development agencies not coordinated with planning agencies not coordinated with infrastructure plans with no political power and – for much of the province no real local government at all – is a failure. 

We lack a fundamental ability to try and solve things creatively.  For guys like Al Hogan it always comes down to a cash grab – trying to squeeze more property taxes out of rural citizens (does Al live in an LSD?).  Instead of looking at the longer term issues – all well laid out in the Finn report – it becomes an exercise of red herrings.

Newsflash.  New Brunswick is a backwards province.  We could be a model for effective urban/rural development.  We could be a model for innovative approaches to urban/rural health care, economic development, education, service delivery but instead we get mired in the same old crap that has held us back for a century.

New Brunswick will never become a self-sufficient province.  Will never be a place where people want to move to.  Will never get over its giant and generations old self-confidence problem if we can’t make even the most basic changes like how we do local government.  Take a look across Canada.  New Brunswick and Newfoundland are the only two provinces with such a frigged up system of local government. All others have a more serious approach.

I’m not saying the report should have been accepted lock, stock and barrel.  There were things that I didn’t agree with and would have tweaked.  But to get the ball rolling it would have been a great starting point.

7 thoughts on “Stop the insanity

  1. He does have a point with this one. Can you HONESTLY say that ‘if’ New Brunswick is a backward province its because of how rural areas are organized? Come on! This blog virtually daily recounts the actions that make NB ‘backward’ and rural governance is virtually never mentioned.

    There are problems with virtually any form of government, and there is a real criticism to be made here-namely, the idea of an Irving company claiming rural NB is not a ‘cash cow’ is about the funniest thing to come out of their mouths in days. Irving’s pulp mill certainly isn’t located in New Denmark.

    Second, rural areas DO have governments, the idea that they’ve been functioning ‘without government’ shows just how ignorant he is of rural New brunswick. It’s been a long time since I researched it but essentially rural areas have representatives to the provincial government, I can’t remember how they are selected, they may even be just nominated, and most rural NBers who commented during the last referendum claimed that they didn’t even know such representation existed. So it’s not like rural NB is a beacon of small town democratic values like in the US where town meetings local referenda decide local policy-quite the opposite.

    Finally, he does have a point about the complaint of rural folk using city services without paying taxes. Except that as he mentions they do pay provincial taxes, which often are used as grants to municipalities. But more importantly, IF that is a big problem then the problem is pretty simple. You simply charge a surtax for city services based on the person’s place of residence. It’s not particularly difficult, most cities in the world use such features, its hardly rocket science. If a city doesn’t bother then you can tell just how important it is to them.

    But no report should be just ‘shelved’, although New Brunswick seems to have a LONG list of recent reports that don’t result in political action. There is a simple way of deciding local government structures-simply let the locals design it themselves.

  2. I can say that I have seen first hand how New Brunswick’s wacky municipal governance level has hurt the province’s economic development. We need to find a way to ensure that residents of small rural areas have a voice in the political process but be part of a system that gives enough critical mass to have professional planning, professional local ED efforts, professional ‘city hall’ services.

    Because of the current configuration, many NB communities large and small are getting comparatively rinky dink services that are holding back development in the name of saving a few bucks on property tax.

  3. That’s a different issue. Like I said, its easy to ‘give them a voice’-it’s called ‘democracy’ and that’s why the US is far more democratic than Canada-it actually has democratic tools at the local level. Organizing rural areas into conglomerate municipalities doesn’t address any problems-as you’ve pointed out yourself, municipalities, even cities, certainly are rarely beacons of economic development.

    And you’ve just repeated Al Hogan’s main point, that they get ‘rinky dink’ services. However, being forced into mergers doesn’t guarantee better services, the entire northern half of the province has few ED services, almost none, yet they have at least one third of the seats in the province, but it doesn’t help.

    This is an age old criticism, but people have to remember that democracy means people get the economic development they WANT, not that other people think they should have. Again, the simplest thing to do is ask them, but often ‘city folk’ have the idea that rural folk ‘need’ to change and adapt. Need to take whatever is given them. People move to rural areas for FAR different reasons than they move to city ones.

    The most desired ‘demand’ of rural areas is the same as city ones-and the one that the province simply refuses to grant-local democracy. People in NB may remember the vicious battle over hog farms (although it was rarely mentioned in the Irving press). One rural town spent years battling a hog farm that was ‘forced’ on them because the province was at the time catering to them. It took a decade and massive pollution before that company simply packed it in and moved back to Germany leaving a massive waste lake. So from a ‘city’ point of view the ED model would likely be ‘hurray, a nice big hog farm that will provide ten jobs’. However, this was a rural town known for tourism and retiree’s, so they had a MUCH different idea of economic development. Again, structures aren’t important, democracy is.

  4. I think it’s just too hot a political potato to juggle at this time. If the Liberals are elected in 2010, this may be something to look back too. I just can’t imagine the Graham Team would want to add this controversy onto an already large pile less than 20 months from an election.

    That being said, the Liberals have wanted to portray themselves as “doing what’s right” over “doing what’s politically acceptable”. The government used that phrase over and over again during the EFI debates.

    I also found surprising that amalgamation of Greater Moncton is still too controversial a subject for even a to-be-shelved report to broach. An urban area with roughly 125,000 people has three municipal governments, one police force, three fire departments, a single water utility, and three works departments. If Fredericton were to annex Harvey, shouldn’t Moncton annex Riverview and Dieppe?

  5. Virtually every government makes the claim to ‘doing whats right’ over whats politically acceptable, which says a lot-like namely apparantly what is ‘politially acceptable’ must be wrong. In other words, what the majority of people want, is ‘wrong’. That’s an odd view, but one that often recurs.

    Amalgamation is always a ‘hot topic’ because no matter how bad property taxes get, virtually never does a majority of the annexee support it. This is currently an ongoing issue here in Waterloo, where since I moved here ten years it has been bandied about. Of course Waterloo and Cambridge and the townships don’t want it, Kitchener, with the majority population does.

    However, people should be aware of how municipalities operate-and they seldom are. Here in Waterloo the council recently barely rejected a proposal to hand over ALL water treatment to the ‘region’ (which includes the seven municipalities). In other words, virtually any ‘service’ in a city can be ‘amalgamated’ or combined, without a full scale amalgamation. It’s rightly seen by critics as a way to limit democracy-NOT to save money (where it sometimes does, sometimes doesn’t).

    If there WERE more significant savings I think amalgamation would be a done deal, it would simply be too tempting for a broke provincial government. But again, the problem with these reports is they rarely seek to expand democracy, which means the proposals are known to be ‘not politically acceptable’ because they are not what people want. Put things in the report that people DO want, and its a far different story as to whether or not to implement the proposals (but like David says, it’s a surprise that there are NO proposals in there that can be implemented).

  6. “for much of the province no real local government at all – is a failure.”

    I happen to live in one of the LSDs and it is true we don’t seem to have any local government. I’d rather amalgamate this LSD into a huge rural municipality; at least then I’d have a phone number to call. Local MLAs cannot fill this function.

    AS far as this being a hot potato; geez, seems like the excuse for every non-decision by Graham is that it is a hot potato. What are we paying him to do? Play it safe 24/7? The guy has to make some hard decisions once and a while. If he can’t do that, then he deserves to be tossed. In this case, I think that the ‘hotness’ of the tater is mainly illusory. It is not the public that is speaking here, its the local party bagmen, many of whom are municipal politicians.

  7. Here here… to local gov’t reform. You’re right. And at the threshold of changes we must identify the major challenges particular to this province and the regions with regard to community development, no?

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