I wasn’t surprised at the massive rejection of the amalgamation of several communities in southeastern New Brunswick. Once the opponents of amalgamation were able to use the media to pound their theory home that it would lead to the raising property taxes – the vote was sure to fail.
But as I have said before, I wonder if the residents of those communities took the time to consider some broader questions. Rather than just boiling it down to a theoretical tax grab, do the residents think they are well served by small and fragmented municipal governments?
New Brunswickers pay the second lowest total income taxes per person of all provinces in Canada. This is not because our tax rates are low but because our aggregate income is low and that translates into lower tax brackets and taxes paid. By contrast Alberta now pays the highest total income taxes per capita in Canada despite having lower tax rates.
Why I mention this is because I think that we need to start thinking about things. Looking at issues from multiple perspectives. The Toll Busters back in the late 1990s suceeded in getting the tolls off the Moncton to Fredericton highway. Congratulations. But they also just about ensured that there would be no badly needed four lane highway connecting the north to the south in our generation. Cause and effect.
I don’t know enough, quite frankly, about municipal governance to render an informed opinion on whether or not a larger municipal structure out there would lead to better outcomes over time. I have said before that I dislike the fact that something like 30% of New Brunswickers have no formal local government.
You know my biggest fear about this? I think this issue (and I heard the peacocks crowing on the radio today) is sending a clear message to the relatively new Liberal government in the province that the people want a lame duck government. They don’t want change. Sure, talk it up but when it comes to making any major policy changes, a little fear-mongering will get you a 80% negative outcome.
Imagine if somebody tried to modify the EI system to encourage year round employment? Imagine if the government actually capped health care spending in 2008 and doubled the economic development budget?
We either need real leadership from our provincial government -regardless of the short term political impact or we need a grassroots movement among the populace to really inform them of the stakes.