Canada/One year after municipal reform, N.B. towns call for 'equal opportunity
Local governance reform is one year old in New Brunswick. On November 28, 2022, citizens elected their representatives in the new municipal entities that came into being on January 1 this year.
This long-awaited reform has been carried out with a degree of harmony, even if the shadow of financing - a question still unresolved - hangs over the merged municipalities.
Kassim Doumbia, the mayor of Shippagan, admits that there was some upheaval with the merger, particularly in Le Goulet. But things have calmed down since then," he said Wednesday duringa Téléjournal Acadie roundtable discussion with his counterparts from Campbellton and Nouvelle-Arcadie.
With good will and goodwill on both sides, things are coming together," he says. Communication has been important.
Jimmy Bourque was elected mayor of Nouvelle-Arcadie, an entity born of the merger of Rogersville and several local service districts (LSDs) in Kent County, some of which were unconvinced of the reform a few years ago. But those fears have been allayed," he says.
It's important that everyone sees themselves as a stakeholder in the new municipality, not just an add-on," says Jimmy Bourque. That's what the DSLs were looking for: their fair share of the pie. And I think we've managed to do that.
As for Campbellton, the mayor of the new amalgamated city, Jean-Guy Levesque, had some reservations last year, by his own admission, but he's happy to be on board. It was a great municipal defeat, but we've accepted it fully and things are going very well now," he says.
It forced us to work together, and I can assure you that [...] it's a team that got things done, together," he asserts.
That said, Jean-Guy Levesque reiterates that more support from the provincial government is inevitable. We haven't reviewed the financial framework," he points out. If we continue with the elements we had on the table in terms of funding, we won't make it.
The North is emptying out and moving south, and the infrastructure remains. We eliminate them when we can, but we still have a lot of money to pay," he declares.
What we're asking for is equal opportunity for all. There's money coming from the federal government to give the province the ability to reduce the gaps, and right away, I don't think the province is there.
A quote from Jean-Guy Levesque, Mayor of Campbellton
Not only is it difficult to create wealth in this context," he adds, "but it's the wealthiest cities that have the ability to reduce their taxation, while the less affluent have their hands tied. The gap between richer and poorer cities is widening," says the mayor.
Equalization, the 5-year freeze, poses a huge problem for us, because there are regions that are growing in terms of their tax base, and we're staying more or less the same," he explains. We need help. But not forever. We need the government to understand that we need 2 to 3 years to get back on our feet.
Creating wealth inevitably involves the financial framework," says Shippagan mayor Kassim Doumbia. If we can find a formula that will enable both the more prosperous and the struggling municipalities to maintain a certain level of services in their communities, that would be a big step forward.
In Nouvelle-Arcadie, Jimmy Bourque notes that the municipality has identified where it can cut and save, but still has to turn to the province when it comes to paying for things like road maintenance.
Kassim Doumbia hopes that cities will find other ways to diversify municipal revenues, rather than always relying on property taxes. In New Brunswick, we can see that this is a brake on development," he asserts.