A Mount Allison politics professor says he wonders about some of the reasons behind the Higgs government’s plans for municipal reform.
Geoff Martin, who specializes in the study of local governments, explains that the province may be seeking to transfer some of its own costs to larger amalgamated municipal units such as the one that includes Sackville, the surrounding local service districts (LSDs) and the Village of Dorchester.
“People are right to think that the provincial government may use this in both the present and the near future to download yet more on the municipal sector,” Martin said Wednesday during a telephone interview.
“It will be the municipal sector that would be forced to raise taxes or cut services and not the provincial government.”
Although Martin says he’s glad that the reforms would finally give residents of many LSDs the right to elect their own municipal representatives, he notes that such democratic rights would still be denied to 61,000 people in 12 rural districts stretched across about 70 per cent of New Brunswick’s land mass.
Martin points out that under the government’s reform plan, residents of the 12 rural districts would elect members of advisory councils, but the provincial government would continue to be responsible for the delivery of local services.
He says it appears that the province wants to ensure that there are no elected local governments in the sparsely settled rural districts so that resource extraction and industrial development could proceed unhindered.
“One of their overriding principles is to encourage economic development and in rural New Brunswick, that means economic development that is more or less unfettered from local concerns,” Martin adds, referring to the proposed Sisson open-pit tungsten mine and the since-closed Metz hog farm in Kent County.
“The province wants to facilitate things like new industrial developments in these 12 rural districts and they don’t want the interference of an incorporated municipal government,” Martin says.
He adds that he would like to see all residents of New Brunswick under the jurisdiction of democratically elected local governments that could defend them against the negative consequences of lax provincial regulations and official passivity when it comes to industrial development and resource extraction.
“I think this is the moment to do it because assuming the government follows through on this whole reform proposal, I doubt there will be any similar changes in the next 20 or 30 years.”
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 24, 2021.