About local governance reform
In very general terms, local governance reform is the process of changing what we have into what we need. We need to find ways to strengthen our local governance system and make it sustainable, while continuing to improve our quality of life.
In very general terms, local governance reform is the process of changing what we have into what we need. This process involves understanding the issues and challenges facing our local governance system and how they relate to one another, considering options to address the issues, and implementing changes that will make a positive difference. The exact nature of the changes has yet to be defined.
We must ask ourselves: are we organized locally and regionally in a way that best serves the needs and interests of all of us as New Brunswickers and the communities we live in?
We need to find ways to strengthen our local governance system and make it sustainable, while continuing to improve our quality of life.
The time for study is over; the status quo is no longer serving the needs of many New Brunswickers.
What is a local government?
A local government is an incorporated entity that provides services and makes decisions on local matters for a defined geographic community. Each local government has a council comprised of a mayor and councillors who are elected through a general municipal election every four years.
What is a local service district?
A local service district (LSD) is a structure that allows for the administration and delivery of local services such as streetlights, recreation, garbage collection, and fire protection, etc. to areas of the province that are not incorporated (i.e., do not have a mayor and councillors). These services are coordinated by the provincial government through the Department of Environment and Local Government.
Nearly one-third of New Brunswickers don’t have a local government that can make decisions on their behalf. Cooperation between communities when it comes to cost sharing and service delivery continues to be very difficult to achieve in many regions. At the same time, many communities have limited financial resources and struggle to provide or maintain good quality local services at an affordable cost.
These issues, among several others, impact one another, which makes substantial local reform more difficult to achieve. We have a system of local governance that is not as efficient, or effective as it could be. It is not organized in a way that can meet the many current and future challenges facing our communities and regions.
Despite the changes to the local governance system including the major overhaul of the 1960s, various organizations and individuals (and many studies) have, in the past twenty plus years, continued to call for more substantial reform to the local governance system.
Local reform is challenging because it means different things to different people.
We have a system of local governance that is not as efficient, nor as effective as it could be. That becomes even more apparent over time given the increase in competing entities. It is not organized in a way that can meet the many current and future challenges facing our communities and regions.
The last comprehensive overhaul of New Brunswick’s local governance system occurred in 1966-67. The reforms, introduced as part of the Equal Opportunity Program, were largely based on the findings and recommendations of the 1963 Royal Commission on Finance and Municipal Taxation in New Brunswick, often referred to as the “Byrne Report”. The most significant changes to the local governance system at the time included the following:
Service responsibilities were realigned between the provincial and local governments. Services such as education, health, social welfare and the administration of justice became the complete responsibility of the provincial government. Local services such as fire protection, roads and streets, police protection, parks and recreation, local planning and development would be looked after by local governments.
A revamped property tax system was introduced to support the new provincial and local service responsibilities and the new structure. This included the introduction of the provincial property tax ($1.50 per $100 of assessment); the centralization of the assessment, billing and collection functions.
County municipalities were eliminated and replaced by LSDs. Many small communities were incorporated as villages and existing towns and cities remained in place.
The unconditional grant system for local governments and LSDs was introduced to help ensure that residents could receive a comparable level of services at reasonable property tax rates.
The Municipalities Act was enacted that would set the administrative and governance framework for municipalities and local service districts.
More than 50 years after being implemented, these changes still form the basis of our local governance system. However, many adjustments to the local governance system, large and small, have been made during this time in response to the various issues that have arisen.
- 1966-67 – Equal Opportunity reforms, largely based on Byrne Commission recommendations, implemented.
- 1975-78 – Provincial property tax on owner-occupied residential properties (homeowners) gradually eliminated.
- 1978-79 – Special provincial property tax rate on owner-occupied residential property in LSDs introduced.
- 1982 – Business assessment tax was replaced with a non-residential property tax.
- 1985-97 – Solid Waste Commissions were established.
- 1995 – The first rural community was established.
- 1992-98 – The strengthening urban centres initiative, resulting in some consolidation of local governments and LSDs, along with regionalization of some services in a few areas, took place.
- 2003 – A significant number of administrative amendments were made to the Municipalities Act.
- 2005 – Changes to rural community model enacted that would allow for local governments and/or LSDs to restructure together.
- 2013 – The 12 Regional Service Commissions were created.
- 2013 – The Community Funding Act was adopted, replacing the Municipal Assistance Act. The Unconditional grant program was eliminated and replaced by the Community Funding and Equalization Grant.
- 2013-16 – Implementation of Improving New Brunswick’s property tax system: A white paper, recommendations.
- 2018 – The Local Governance Act was adopted, replacing the Municipalities Act, to bring New Brunswick’s legislation in line with other Canadian jurisdictions.