Responding to the call for feedback related to local governance reform, the New Brunswick Local Service District Association has just released their Blueprint for Rural and Suburban Governance. The group uses the Blueprint to summarize the consultations they have been holding over the past year which has involved more than 1,500 Local Service District (LSD) residents.
Association President Jules Bosse from Region 1, says, “Our in-house meetings also inspired members to host meetings in their own regions and these results were also shared with us. This represents at least an additional 500 engaged LSD residents.”
The Association does not claim to represent all LSDs but does say they contacted and invited each LSD to consultations by getting LSD contact information from the province’s LSD managers.
Bruce Dryer, one of the group’s board members from Region 9 indicates, “We heard from a few of the 236 LSDs that they are not yet willing to come forward, as they do not feel enough information on reform plans have been shared – they want to offer an informed opinion on the matter. Other LSD committees and residents have reported appreciation for being included in what they consider the development of the reform plans. Sadly, a third and larger contingent of residents who contributed to the Blueprint are wary that the government may have long ago picked the reforms to be initiated and worry that the engagement process is meaningless.”
In their Blueprint, the LSD association highlights the lack of transparent information on which to base the reform, as well as strategies to improve the process.
Process improvement to ensure better outcomes for LSD residents during reform, is the aim of the LSD Association’s Blueprint.
Gregory Grant, another of the group’s board members from Region 12, states, “We have identified some common ground with government and municipal associations – we agree that reform is absolutely necessary, and that no two communities are the same, also, we all acknowledge that the number of governance entities in the province can be reduced – we have a starting point for collaboration, but we must be partners at the table – we have a lot to offer.”
The LSD Blueprint offers principles and lays out parameters to guide the re-structuring of local governance reform relative to the 33 per cent of the New Brunswick population in suburban and rural areas. Considering its serious content, it was refreshing to find the Blueprint steered away from a blame-game and the overall tone of the document is positive, with recommendations to advance the process.
The Association put much emphasis on four overall themes, the need for democratically elected local governance structures made of suburban and rural representatives, transparent and fair distribution of income such as the equalization and gas tax funding, basing reform decisions in evidence and the importance of attributing LSD contributions to environmental stewardship and the economy.
The Blueprint points out that LSDs are an important and essential part of New Brunswick’s economic supply chain and environmental “insurance” and that New Brunswickers recognize that it is the land base of LSDs which provides flood mitigation services, food, and our connection to and respect for nature, all of which are essential to a prosperous future.
Another important message shared in various ways throughout the Blueprint is the need for fair allocation of costs and benefits in collaborative initiatives.
The Blueprint reminds the reader that fair and effective taxation does not start with LSD residents subsidizing municipalities, landlords, second home owners and business, without the deliberate choice of LSD residents to do so. For instance, the document discusses that LSD residents contribute 46.5 per cent of the cost of local and regional road services, but also contribute to municipal and provincial road and infrastructure projects through re-distribution of provincial and federal taxes and, more specifically, through the asymmetrical dispersal of the Gas Tax Fund.
Bosse states, “The success of Local Governance reform and a prosperous future for all New Brunswickers is the common goal. We are willing to do our part, and the Blueprint lays out where we will focus our efforts.”
Kim Reeder is a senior policy analyst with the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick and is an author of the Blueprint for Rural and Suburban Governance.