Every New Brunswicker deserves a mayor

I have been hearing a lot about the problems with the regional service commissions.  The lead story in the TJ details many of the challenges.

I continue to believe the real issue here is the weakness at the municipal level of government across the province. Something like 35% of all New Brunswickers do not have a mayor and another significant percentage live in communities without the scale to mount a team of professionals to lead local development efforts.

The province has historically viewed municipal governance as a nuisance.   A few years ago I was interviewing a city manager from one of the province’s three largest cities and he told me he hadn’t met with either the Minister or Deputy Minister in charge of municipalities in the two years.  I was stunned by this statement.

I know a lot of folks disagree with me but I strenuously believe in the importance of municipal government.   The province has a provincial focus. The national government has a national focus.  The only level of government that is singularly focused on the local communities – in which all development occurs – is municipal government.

In the long term, I think this is one of New Brunswick’s structural challenges.  As I have written recently, the economic development priorities of a local community may be completely different than the province and its ‘six sectors’ and now the majority of the provincial population doesn’t have a ‘local’ economic development advocate – there is no organization driving local economic development for the bulk of the province now.

When I talk to mayors I get two responses: 1) Let the province take care of it (a strange position) or 2) I’d love to tackle economic development but I have very little capacity to do it.  This second response is fairly wide-spread with the exception of the largest cities – Freddy, Moncton and SJ where there is scale and capacity and where they are now developing a new focus unencumbered from the provincial Enterprise network.

Every New Brunswicker deserves a mayor and every community deserves to have someone working to foster and champion economic development in that community.  If towns are too small, they should band together and form a ‘regional’ economic development effort that provides enough scale to get things done.  If there isn’t enough money we should find a way.

Finally, I also realize that a growing share of the population isn’t interested in economic development.  I hear this from mayors and councillors as well. They just want to be left alone and the idea of paying $50 or $100 more in property taxes each year to support ‘economic development’ would be vigorously resisted.

But someone needs to talk with New Brunswickers.  We can’t just sit back and let things unfold as they will.  We have to take our destiny in our own hands – and that means Minto as well as Moncton.


3 thoughts on “Every New Brunswicker deserves a mayor

  1. “The province has historically viewed municipal governance as a nuisance”. I’m not sure in what sense this is meant, I think its true but for the OPPOSITE reason I think you do.

    I’ll again reference two resource stories-the Sussex area economic enterprise just wants a guarantee on a loan so it can build a natural gas industrial park. This is ‘local’, and it only required the province to co-sign a loan. The province tells them to go to hell.

    McAdam prepares a 100 page report outlining a local forestry industry using local lumber. This would provide local jobs, and once again only requires some local land-which you could argue is McAdam’s anyway, and co signing a loan. The province tells them to go to hell.

    So I agree, the province DOES see municipal governance as a ‘nuisance’. Especially when they want local resources. The province LOVES cities, because people in cities have no say over resources.

    Those who AREN”T in cities are usually there for a reason, so I think the idea that they don’t want to pay taxes so that some people can sit in offices and call corporations who laugh at them when they ask why they don’t want to locate in their rural area.

  2. Here’s the funny thing.

    Look at Dalhousie, Charlo, Balmoral, Eel River Crossing, for example. Four communities – four separate mayors and councils. For what, 20,000 people (at max). Years ago, during the Liberal Government, the Finn report suggested they amalgamate.

    In the years since, services each of those communities can deliver have deteriorated due to declining populations and declining industrial property tax revenues.

    Today — even if they WANTED to amalgamate — they can’t. The government won’t let them and won’t help them. It’s just not enough of a priority for the Provincial government, and they don’t care.

    How wrong is that? The citizens of the area don’t have a use for 4 mayors and councils who can’t see the big picture if it came up and hit them in the head. They can’t work out the simplest of issues. It’s an embarassment. And not only that, services CONTINUE to deteriorate BECAUSE they can’t get their act together and they are not being FORCED to.

    Here’s another part of the problem. They are competing against each other for budgets for paving, healthcare, policing, education, and the list goes on and on. The competition could virtually be eliminated with an amalgamation. Amalgamation would save time and money, and have a chance at preserving some municipal services before the axe really falls.

  3. One of the surprising things (of many) I found when I moved here in 2001 was the degree of centralization of municipal affairs in New Brunswick. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind it (and anyways at a certain point it just becomes historical fact, without a reason) but I am supportive of decentralization of local government control and allowing communities to govern themselves.

    (p.s. we hear again that ” I also realize that a growing share of the population isn’t interested in economic development” and I reiterate again that this is because the way ‘economic development’ is currently set up it benefits a few large companies in the province, without helping the rest of us).

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