Finn and politics

An economic development consultant colleague from outside New Brunswick asked me the other day about the Finn report – he had read about it in the paper while in the province.  He asked me what the big deal was.

35% is the big deal.  35% of New Brunswickers live in LSDs and actually, if I have my math right, the majority of New Brunswickers live in communities whose leadership do not like Finn.  One of the larger urbans’ mayors doesn’t like the idea at all.

So you have a proposition where a large percentage of the population is likely against the Finn report and could easily be mobilized against it (i.e. tell them their taxes will go up) and the rest of the population that is ambivalent about the idea.

That’s why this type of change is so stubbornly difficult.  JG Finn is in the paper again today saying that he thinks the stars may be aligning for the Alward government to make this happen. 

Maybe but where does it fit in the priority list between a billion dollar deficit, stagnant/aging population, the upcoming loss of transfer payments, energy, etc.?

Political capital is an interesting concept.  Politicians can burn through it quickly – but in the longer term can see a payback on the investment.   A guy like Finn would say this is the case here – that eventually people will widely see the benefits.    I personally think most of what he is proposing makes good sense but I don’t see it as some kind of panacea and when many of these communities continue to see population decline, they would point to amalgamation as not successful and the political capital would be wasted.

But there is that little issue of ‘legacy’.  At some time in the future, when you search Wikipedia for NB Premiers you will see a large entry for LJR, a good sized one for Frank McKenna and, likely either very little or a footnote on both Lord and Graham.    Many Alward would like his name on a few buildings some day.  He won’t get it following in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors (although in fairness, they are both young and may not be done casting their names in bronze).

5 thoughts on “Finn and politics

  1. “So you have a proposition where a large percentage of the population is likely against the Finn report and could easily be mobilized against it (i.e. tell them their taxes will go up)”

    One approach would be to provide some transparency – produce some numbers reflecting the costs of providing existing services in LSDs (is it not astounding that GNB is not providing those numbers already?). If those costs are greater in a given LSD than the revenue from the local services portion of the property tax, then Alward has to tell people that that situation is no longer sustainable and that property taxes have to go up. Then you have a situation where taxes will be going up whether you have mergers or not. That would blunt the anti-Finn forces a bit.

    Of course, if the local services portion of prop tax IS paying for those services, then………….

  2. We’ve had lengthy debates on Finn here, but I’d mirror Richard’s point exactly. I know a lot of rural people, and our family owns rural property. Both from experience and research I am beginning to suspect that actually rural districts are a cash and political cow.

    Think of the consequences. More political power to ‘municipal’ organizations of rural areas (where the resources are). That’s LESS money going to the province from all kinds of sources, which means what the provincial government gets is less control of provincial resources, less money, and less political clout in these areas. There is nothing governments hate more than losing political power.

    It’s no coincidence that the province says it can’t do this because it will COST the province millions. The public, of course, has no idea what the numbers are so really can’t gauge, but governments rarely do anything without some kind of reason, even if its bad. Finn says it will save money by stopping municipal grants, but come on, we’re talking about a small province, when that happens people are going to have a very different opinion of their local rep.

    I agree that step one needs to be some numbers. I DON”T think this will come from government. CBC has a number of articles on the gloom and doom coming and how NBers are going to have to ‘take part in deciding what they want to get rid of’. The nurses union says they want a bigger role, and since the public has no idea of health care numbers either, most of the comments are of the kind that nurses are lazy and overpaid (which is sometimes true).

    The real problem here comes back to Richard’s point about research. The Social Policy Research team that just started just had a forum in Moncton last week, sadly under-reported by the press until the day it occurred (that seems to be an Irving trend-although I don’t think the CBC reported it at all), so we’ll see what they can come up with. But I suspect there’s a reason the liberals had two amalgamation referenda that were very low on the radar-turnout was extremely low and many reported they didn’t even know it existed let alone what the issues were.

    The main point is that they’ve said several times that there will be referenda, not forced, and in fact for those against that idea they should note that there has been a fair bit of legal work in this area and it could easily be challenged in court IF the province tried to do as they did in Miramichi. This is not the 90’s anymore. As to which side the government favours, we’ll know this from how transparant they are with the information. Mind you, the current state of not having a local elected official could have been challenged LONG ago, but never has, so NBers are never in a rush to go to court.

  3. In my opinion, looking into the Finn report is absolutely relevant IF, as suggested, there is an opportunity to save money in delivering services more efficiently. As the previous two commenters point out – we need to see the #s. There’s been suggestions of a $70 million dollar shortfall per year between LSD taxes collected and services provided (by Lise Ouellette and others). If that’s the case, then it’s well worth spending Minister Fitch and team’s time to determine whether that shortfall can be reduced.

    From the Fredericton Chamber’s perspective, there is also the issue of fairness in the distribution of local governance funds. The current funding formula penalizes those municipalities that are fiscally responsible, with lower levels of debt, and subsidizes those that have spend recklessly with high levels of debt. We’d prefer to see a system that rewards solid financial management in the municipalities, rather than giving more money to those who operate poorly.

    But it’s an emotional issue, and a politically risky one. It will be interesting to see where all this ink leads.

  4. It should not be too hard to determine the costs of providing services to LSDs.

    1) the local DOT District Engineer would likely have data from his budget calculations showing the average cost of ploughing/maintaining a kilometre of LSD road. He would also have data on the kilometres of road in each LSD (or could calculate them fairly quickly).
    2) Waste management, police services, and fire services are subject to contracts, so those costs could be estimated fairly readily.
    3) admin costs (planning, zoning, etc) could be estimated by determining the FTEs of provincial staff devoted to the average LSD.

    I think that would represent the bulk of the provincial service costs, but perhaps I’ve left a few things out. There are a number of other costs pertaining to things such as ambulance services, distribution of regulated utilities, etc, where one could argue that LSDs are subsidized by urban residents, but those are perhaps things that might not need to be factored in at the moment since they are for the most part not direct provincial expenditures.

    The revenue side should be straightforward to calculate, using the total property assessments for the LSD.

  5. So some don’t like it. That’s fine. It’s just one report by an academic. Surely MLAs can come up with some sort of bipartisan solution on municipal government that doesn’t include the word “Finn” in any of the sentences.

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