On the morning of April 6, the Province of New Brunswick released a green paper called, “Working Together for Vibrant and Sustainable Communities.” The document presents background information and “areas of opportunity” for the reform of local government, but also leaves the reader with questions. During the launch of the paper, Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform Daniel Allain did not help to fill in any of the missing information.
In response to the paper, Jules Bosse with the Union of Unincorporated Areas of New Brunswick (UUANB) said his organization, “wants government to consider more than one source of information, more than one perspective,” however, he does admit, “this is hard to do when 33 per cent of the population has no effective voice.”
Previously, the New Maryland Local Service District Advisory Committee shared similar concerns in a letter to the Minister on February 18, 2021. The letter stated, “with an effective democratically elected local government, other problems with the system can be more easily addressed. More importantly, these problems will be addressed in a manner that respects the rights of residents of these communities to self-determination.”
UUANB members are also wary of terms contained within the green paper such as “cost effectiveness” and point out that the question of “cost effective for who?” is not addressed.
“The reform process must be based on evidence,” said John Kipping, also with UUANB. For Kipping, these details are very important: “research from Canadian jurisdictions shows that economies of scale are only evident in very limited situations.”
The UUANB is also confused regarding the choice of the green papers’ examples of success stories of amalgamation, for instance highlighting the Halifax Regional Municipality – as even the most preliminary of the UUANB’s research provides alternate points of view on these “successes.”
According to Kipping, “there was no mention in the green paper of lessons learned from past unsuccessful attempts of amalgamation in our own province. We cannot ignore half the story, when attempting to design a successful future.”
Though hopeful, the UUANB remains worried that benefits derived from the rural areas to the province as a whole, will be forgotten in upcoming discussions.
The green paper highlights concurrent health and education reforms that will need to be considered as part of this process. In response, Bosse said, “we couldn’t agree more but can’t imagine how this will take place in a meaningful way, under such tight timelines and with consultation solely via internet, which is not up to the task in many rural areas.”
The UUANB is asking Minister Allain to postpone the local governance reform process. The group wants to delay until it is possible to have in-person meetings and an in-depth review of the critical issues affecting the unincorporated areas.
Minister Allain and the government of New Brunswick officials have been asked repeatedly by numerous local service district chairpersons to slow down and think the reform process through to an optimal new arrangement with the benefit of full and open consultation. But these individual requests have been denied. For Bosse, “Zoom meetings are not a replacement for face-to-face meeting and evidence-based research.”
The UUANB will continue to remind government that it is the rural areas of the province that provide food, vistas for tourism, clean water and flood attenuation, and that these areas host much of the province’s capacity for vibrant and sustainable communities, and the regenerative economy necessary during post-COVID recovery. The UUANB invites contact through their email, UUANBinfo@gmail.com.
Kim Reeder is a senior policy advisor with the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick who is involved in many rural community initiatives.