The Legislative Assembly meets in person.
Upcoming municipal elections are planned for mid-May offering both in-person, and mail-in ballots.
However, for the upcoming local service district (LSD) advisory committee elections, the options are restricted to Zoom and phone participation only. This situation has many citizens of unincorporated areas asking questions, or they tried.
In many areas of the Province, when LSD residents aimed to answer the call to participate in LSD Advisory Committee elections or to have questions answered, they found that the emails, and in some cases even the phone numbers provided for contact were not in service.
Whether by design or not, conditions such as these highlight the inequity of the rural condition and do not instill confidence that the Province can reliably host LSD elections. Unfortunately, that concern is compounded by the reality of unreliable internet service throughout many rural regions in the Province.
While most in LSDs are not interested in a full suite of services, such as those provided in cities, towns and villages, many LSD residents are interested in having a voice in how their communities are managed.
As discovered earlier in the week, another example of the provincially constructed reality for unincorporated areas, is that only a portion of LSD residents will have the option to participate in LSD Advisory committee elections. In areas where LSD committees have been inactive, but citizens tried to put their names forward to participate in upcoming elections – they were rejected by the Provincial government.
There is a process in the Local Governance Act that must be followed to reinstate an inactive LSD committee which includes a door-to-door petition. However, the Act also gives the Minister the right to call a meeting for the election of an Advisory Meeting irrespective of activity status.
Many residents in inactive LSDs may not even be aware of the upcoming elections, or perhaps even the recently released green paper, as they were not mailed out any information about the election process, or how to reinstate their LSD committees. Perhaps, to engage the citizens of unincorporated areas in the reform discussion, the Minister should encourage and enable discussion, as well as declare that any currently inactive LSD can host an election.
If, for some reason the Province cannot host in-person and mail-in balloting for LSDs, a privilege bestowed on 67% of the population living in cities, towns, and villages, perhaps we need to ask more questions about their competency to develop a fair local governance system.
During these times of COVID, when we are all called upon to be increasingly diligent with our words and actions, we are called upon to be inclusive and kind, we are called upon to make sure our neighbours and seniors do not become isolated, we ask the same of the province – do not further isolate those in the unincorporated areas of the province.
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.