N.B. government says amalgamation, tax change possible after local government reform

The New Brunswick minister responsible for local governance reform is looking to citizens for their input on changes they'd like to see in their community.

Daniel Allain says there are too many local governments right now, and he believes not all residents are getting equal access to services because of where they live.

"I think the time has come that we need reform," he said during a news conference Tuesday. "It's been 60 years that we haven't touched it. We've had over 25 studies."

Right now, the province is made up of:

  • 8 cities, which include 37 per cent of the total population
  • 26 towns, home to 17 per cent
  • 61 villages; 10 per cent of population
  • 8 rural communities, 3 per cent of population
  • 1 regional municipality, 2 per cent of population
  • 16 First Nations, 1 per cent of population
  • 236 local services districts, 30 per cent of population

Allain says local service districts do not have mayors and councils, despite having 30 per cent of the overall population.

That's an issue, if those communities want to vote on something like a service sharing agreement.

The Town of Woodstock's mayor says he's found cooperation among the districts that surround Woodstock, but it can be difficult to come to a proper agreement.

"I think the number one thing in this whole process is going to be the full municipalization of the province," said Arthur Slipp. "Every local service district must be able to elect representatives in an election, and those duly elected representatives have to be able to have the power to negotiate and sign agreements to represent the wishes of the citizens of the local service districts. There's a number of files that municipalities could engage local service districts on, if they had the power to actually negotiate and conclude an agreement."

The executive director of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick is hopeful the consultation process will garner interest from all New Brunswickers.

"We've seen, for example, recent conversation about affordable housing and which level of government is responsible for that," said Margot Cragg. "Fundamentally, people don't necessarily know or care what level of government is responsible for any given task. They just want to see it done. But, of course, it does matter. It matters in taxation – who gets the tax revenues in order to provide those services? It matters in representation – who has a say in what the end outcome is going to look like? It matters in boundaries – who belongs in what community and who's included?"

She says what will be discussed during the upcoming consultations "affect all of us."

The department hasn't set dates for when virtual consultations will be held – but nothing is being ruled out – including amalgamations and changes to taxation.

"When restructured communities are put in place, there can be differential tax rates," said deputy minister Ryan Donaghy. "That is certainly possible going forward, but there are not decisions at this point."

Committees have been created to look over New Brunswickers' suggestions, and a final report is expected by the end of 2021.