Amalgamating Localities as a Means of Promoting Efficient Governance

New Brunswick’s (NB) system of local governance, implemented in the 1960s under the Robichaud government’s equal opportunity programme, dissolved the existing county system and replaced it with one that focused on the province’s many cities, towns, and villages. This left rural areas largely unincorporated and, since then, NB’s municipal structures have remained unchanged (other than a few forced amalgamations).

Although the rationale to dissolve the county system in the 1960s was defensible, NB has since failed to modernize its municipal system in a way that better equips local governments to deal with contemporary challenges. The infamous 2008 Finn Report on local government, for instance, noted that many of the problems associated with municipal politics–particularly, the existence of too many municipalities, local service districts, rural communities, and taxation authorities (over 400 in total)–led to a duplication of services and infrastructure and resulted in a lack of fair cost sharing between municipalities. The report also found that it led to a poor allocation of provincial and federal funding.

An example of the headache caused by NB’s multiple municipal structure is the South-East Region, otherwise known as the Westmoreland and Albert counties. The region hosts two cities, three towns, nine villages, and a rural community. In addition, it is home to four local service districts and a regional service commission.

The Finn Report notes that, since 1967, there have been over 25 studies analyzing municipal governance. It identified a lack of progress in regards to reorganizing municipalities, other than some piecemeal developments in taxation policy and policies regarding unconditional loans and grants. The report recommended dissolving all local service districts, villages, towns, and rural communities and transforming them into larger entities. In addition, the report suggested amalgamating cities and their surrounding rural communities.

Indeed, many other jurisdictions have undergone similar restructurings in Canada, such as the creation of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) in Nova Scotia. A body like HRM, which is an amalgamation of Halifax, Dartmouth, and the surrounding areas, prevents service duplication and ensures fair cost sharing. Consider the advantage for an area like Saint John, surrounded by suburbs. Currently, the city is on the hook for infrastructure cost within its limits, which everyone within the commuter-shed uses. In addition, the several towns and the city duplicate services in the area, such as policing and sewers. Regional cooperation would eliminate these problems.

The most common criticism of the “regional municipality” model is that rural areas and towns will risk having their voices diluted by the larger cities with which they forge. While this does pose a serious threat for smaller jurisdictions, they generally have little influence over local governance under the current system. Local service district boards are unelected and many rural areas do not have the population to justify the expense of operating as a village or rural community. Merging with larger townships, however, affords rural areas with representation on municipal councils and, therefore, greater representation in local affairs. Preserving the community’s identify could also be achieved through the creation of community councils.

In conclusion, NB needs local governance reform as the current system is outdate and has failed to keep pace with the rest of the country. Attributed to the shortcomings of reform is political will, as municipal changes have proven unpopular in past times. NB’s dispersed population and language divide worsens the issue. (Consider an area like Moncton and Dieppe, where city limits also serve as the separation of language communities.) Ultimately, the province must work around these obstacles in order to achieve a more efficient local government.

Randy Kaye is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute

Bridging NL’s Urban/Rural Divide

Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), throughout history, has faced several economic impediments. The most famous of these impediments is the collapse of its cod fishery in the 1990s, which placed the viability of coastal communities in question. For instance, from 1991 to 2001 (following the federal government’s 1992 cod moratorium), NL’s rural population as a percentage of the province’s total population dropped 18%.

The primary driver behind the province’s rural population decline is a lack of employment. NL’s key economic determinants (and their jobs), for instance, are chiefly located in urban areas where employment opportunities are greater. Without taking proactive steps, this trend is likely to continue.

Although there is an emergence of specific industries, such as aquaculture, in NL’s rural areas, the biggest concern is the province’s ‘brain drain.’

Of those in rural communities whom choose to continue their studies, a large portion leave and few ever return home. This creates a vicious cycle, the result of which is a shortage of highly trained individuals in the province’s rural areas (thus, limiting innovation and constraining organizations that would otherwise consider operating rural communities).

There are, however, several potential solutions for reducing the gap between NL’s rural and urban communities and, subsequently, growing NL’s rural economies:

1)      Infrastructural development
2)      Labour market assistance
3)      Encouraging immigration

If you build it, they will come.

One potential solution for attracting new talent to the province is to advance research programs and build the additional capacity necessary for extending these programs into the province’s rural communities. The province, for instance, recently became an advocate for extending research and development (R&D) programs, incorporating entities such as the Research and Development Corporation (RDC), which “provides leadership, strategic focus and investments in order to strengthen and improve the research system throughout the province.”

Although it is unlikely that NL will become an R&D hub (like, for instance, Singapore), it is uniquely located for specialized studies, for instance, in aquaculture, Arctic relations, and natural resources development.

Furthermore, the provincial government is capable of improving its labour and immigration market. Firstly, tax-rebates afforded to companies that are establishing themselves can create jobs in the province’s rural areas and, secondly, escalating the province’s immigration recruitment strategy can provide capital for NL’s rural areas that have experienced population decline.

Although these initiatives are cost-intense, the current upkeep rate of NL’s rural infrastructure (and other government services) as a percentage of the province’s GDP is growing annually, requiring greater economic output. Bridging this gap is crucial, therefore, not only for sustaining NL’s current demands, but also for reaching the province’s full economic potential.

Tyler Power is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute