Researchers at Western University in Ontario say New Brunswick could achieve municipal reform without resorting to forced amalgamations such as requiring Sackville to merge with surrounding local service districts and the village of Dorchester.
In a paper published last May, Professor Zachary Taylor and graduate student Jon Taylor argue that New Brunswick should reform its 12 Regional Service Commissions instead of resorting to what they term forced municipalization.
“You don’t have to have forced municipalization for the system to work in order to have regional resource sharing, regional planning and all these kinds of things,” Professor Taylor said Monday in a telephone interview.
“You can take more of a go-slow approach to all this if you adopt a British Columbia-style model,” he added, referring to the regional districts that have been in place in B.C. since the 1960s.
Taylor, who is director of the Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance at Western, said amalgamations and annexations can generate the kind of intense political controversy and strife that can defeat attempts at municipal reform.
“What experience has shown across the continent over the past 100 years is that very rarely do places volunteer to be annexed or amalgamated into larger units,” he said.
Last week, Local Government Minister Daniel Allain announced a series of amalgamations and other changes that would reduce the number of local government entities in the province from 340 to 90, with a new total of 78 municipalities and 12 rural districts.
Under his plan, the Town of Sackville would merge with the Village of Dorchester and the surrounding local service districts including the communities of British Settlement, Westcock and Wood Point to form one of the 78 municipalities.
When asked during a news conference why he was resorting to amalgamations when he had previously said he would not force people to do anything they didn’t want to, Allain stressed the need to reform what he called an “antiquated structure.”
“People have been asking for change,” he said, referring to e-mails and briefs he received during public consultations, but he did not say directly why he was abandoning his promise not to force amalgamations.
His plan also removes the legal requirement to hold a vote before an amalgamation can take place.
In their paper on local government reform in New Brunswick, Zachary Taylor and Jon Taylor argue that strengthening the province’s 12 Regional Service Commissions (RSCs) along the lines of longstanding regional districts in B.C. would be “much less disruptive than other potential options such as forced municipal incorporation and amalgamation.”
It would also allow residents in unincorporated areas or local service districts (LSDs) to elect representatives to serve on the Regional Service Commissions.
In a newspaper article last May, they wrote:
Our proposal requires three key changes: First, the province’s existing Local Service Districts would be replaced by democratically accountable representatives. Residents of unincorporated areas would directly elect members to RSC boards in proportion to their share of the population. These board members would sit alongside representatives of cities, towns and villages as they make regional planning and servicing decisions. Second, unincorporated areas would be divided into “electoral areas” defined by communities of interest and participation in regional services. Third, RSCs would gain the authority to decide what services to provide, where they are offered, and the tax rates levied to pay for them.
During our telephone interview on Monday, Professor Taylor noted that municipal amalgamations can be costly and disruptive, especially during transition periods.
“I hope New Brunswickers pay close attention to this because they’re going to have to live with it for decades to come,” he said with a chuckle.
To read the full paper on the proposal for municipal reform in New Brunswick without forced amalgamations, click here.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared on November 23, 2021.