Local governance reform: concerns in the South East
• 1 Oct 2021
• Alexandre Boudreau Alexandre Boudreau@acadienouvelle.com
As local governance reform deliberations draw to a close and the ministry prepares to release its final reform plan in November, some communities are already planning to merge, Minister Daniel Allain said.
The Minister of Local Government and Local Governance Reform continues his consultations on the reform. The idea of amalgamations between municipalities and local service districts (LSDs) is rather well received in some places, he said.
“I have LSDs like Grande-Digue and Dundas who have already told me which communities they would like to reach. There are municipalities that have room to accommodate LSDs. There are also LSDs that can maybe group together. ”
Daniel Allain, however, insists on the viability criteria mentioned in his green paper, which is that each new community should have at least 4,000 inhabitants and a total property assessment of at least $ 200 million.
Very small localities would therefore not have the choice of joining the ranks of a municipality.
These options do not appeal to everyone. Odette Babineau, president of the Pointe-du-Chêne LSD Advisory Committee, says her community is too far from other LSDs to be able to regroup with them.
Pointe-du-Chêne’s population depends on seasonal tourism and ranges from 800 permanent residents to some 4,000 temporary residents during the summer, according to Babineau. The small community’s property appraisal is estimated to be around $ 175 million.
“If we linked up with Shediac Cape, we would have $ 300 million in property assessment, so we could be an incorporated village, but we concluded that was too big a land.”
Pointe-du-Chêne is located between the town of Shediac and the rural community of Beaubassin-Est, but Odette Babineau would prefer not to have her community merged with one of these two entities.
She fears a loss of representativeness of her community since the general councilors of Shediac are elected to represent the entire population and not just one neighborhood in particular.
She believes that several community residents share her opinion.
“I am less aligned with Ms. Babineau, however, said Minister Daniel Allain. Most of the residents I’ve spoken to are willing to join one of the municipalities. “
He says he wants to continue to “feel the pulse” of communities that have yet to make their choice, but he does not intend to wait indefinitely. He intends to publish a white paper on local governance reform in November, which will contain a final plan for the structure of municipalities. “We have to adhere to our goals as well: to reduce the number of entities and make sure they are viable.
Representatives from some LSDs in Kent and southeastern New Brunswick participated in a further consultation with the minister on Wednesday evening. Gilles Cormier, councilor for the rural community of Beaubassin-est, argues that community mergers can create tensions. Beaubassin-est council has gone through a few stormy years since this rural community was incorporated in 2006. The new municipality had been the victim of a “lack of support” from the government, he said.
He called on the minister to make sure this does not happen again.
“The ministry must put in place human and financial resources to support these new entities.”
Faced with concerns from several people about an increase in the tax rate in LSDs, Assistant Deputy Minister Ryan Donaghy asserted that any tax rate hikes will likely be extended over a period of five years to avoid a suddent shock. He also asserted that residents will not have to pay for municipal services they do not use.
Odette Babineau, who was also present at the consultation, criticized the minister over the consultation process, which she described as swift. Due to the return of the state of emergency, this meeting took place by videoconference even though it had been scheduled face-to-face.
“People in our communities don’t feel like they’ve had the chance to interact, ask questions and have answers,” she said. She asked the minister if residents would have the option of voting on these reforms.
Without answering his question directly, Daniel Allain ruled out this possibility.
“We’ve been talking about governance reform for 26 years. In the last year, in my opinion, people have had enough time. ” ■