Finn-ishing what was started

The People’s Alliance party sent out a tweet this am stating “Finn report means less power to the people and less democracy”.

Of all the things I have heard about that report, I this that statement is the strangest of all.  The fact is that the bulk of municipalities have no local democracy at all – the LSDs are run by bureaucrats out of Fredericton.

And the majority of incorporated municipalities are too small to have any real intellectual horsepower to have any control over their destiny – they essentially rely on the provincial level of government. 

Finn writes in an election analysis for CBC News that the number of local governing bodies must be cut to between 50 and 55 from more than 400 that exist now. There are 101 incorporated municipalities, three rural communities, 267 local service districts and 50 additional taxing authorities that total 421 types of government representing a dwindling population of fewer than 750,000 people.

To say that the Finn report means “less power to the people” is silly.  Under Finn, a local government vote will matter way more than it ever did before because they will be voting for a governmental entity that has some power, some budget and some authority – more than all but the largest municipal governments have now.

I’ve seen this in my work around New Brunswick.  When local governments have virtually no control over their destiny there is a very real potential for them to give up and spend their time haggling over the 0.2% control they have.  We need to empower more local control over these communities’ destiny and Finn was all about that.

I don’t think his report was perfect.   I think it was the basis for a serious, structural change and I think it needs to be put back on the front burner.

And for those who are adamant about keeping the status quo, it’s worked quite well hasn’t it?  75% of all communities are in decline.  Since the changes to the current model, we have gone from fairly robust population growth around New Brunswick (northern NB grew faster than southern NB in the 1950s) to 75% of all communities in decline.

Think about that the next time you dump on Finn writ large.

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24 Responses to Finn-ishing what was started

  1. mikel says:

    Again, you don’t live in a rural area so don’t know the culture. If you think the provincial government sends a Queens Representative to a rural village and dictates far reaching policy you are VERY wrong.
    The culture of rural communities is VERY different than in cities and even towns. The latter are highly structuralized representative governments whose ‘leaders’ have pretty much absolute control.
    In rural areas most decisions are made without even reference to any kind of formal government. If you live on a road that barely even has winter plowing service, its silly to talk about the things you take for granted – education (there is none, rural students are mainly shipped out), recreation (again, none exist but what locals put together themselves, usually not ‘team’ sports), water treatment (again, none exist, rural people are on well water with septic systems-these will be regulated by the department of health no matter WHAT type of local government is instituted).
    Sign laws? Again, a non issue. Zoning? First of all nobody set up in rural areas anyway. Do you really think an amalgamated ‘new denmark’ is going to somehow ramp up economic development when Miramichi, Bathurst and Campbellton can’t? Come on!
    As for the ‘representatives’, its true these are chosen by the government, but I know several who have held such a post and they are usually chosen through interaction with the locals, often through a popular, though informal, vote. It is relatively free of politics because there really ARE no big political issues to contend.

    Again, this is a debate going on all over the world. The ASSUMPTION by city folk is that ‘democracy’ has a specific meaning, meaning elections every four years. This, actually, is NOT ‘democracy’. However, if you asked those in rural areas if they’d agree to formal elections for representatives then they’d probably say OK-as long as YOU paid for it. And as long as it didn’t change the duties of the representatives, because rural people quite rightly see amalgamation as simply ‘more government bureaucracy’, and if you live in a city, then you know EXACTLY what they mean. You lawn has to be so short, you can’t have a mess on your lawn, heck, I remember in Hamilton when an elderly woman had a garden on her front lawn and the city was going to come in and cut it all down because it ‘didn’t match the decor of the street’-meaning, grass lawns which all look identical.

    In fact, we have VERY little democracy, even at the local level in Canada. Just because you are voting amongst various people-most of whom have identical policies and experience, to make ALL your decisions, that doesn’t make a democracy. I can understand the argument that THINKS that rural people are somehow being lorded over by the government, but let me tell you, I lived rural and spend a lot of time rural-these people have guns, and they do NOT like being told what to do. And freedom has always been a central tenet of democracy.

  2. richard says:

    “The culture of rural communities is VERY different than in cities and even towns.”

    Its actually pretty similar in most places. The LSDs with the most people in them are on the outskirts of towns and cities; many LSD residents commute to those urban areas to work. Basically they are suburbs but without the planning mechanisms or resources to control growth. Tour and LSD and you will see a terrible jumble of haphazard development; that occurred without any public input. Where is the democracy there?

    “In rural areas most decisions are made without even reference to any kind of formal government”

    That’s good? If you are trying to suggest that this is some sort of public process where people get together and decide what to do, may I suggest that you are woefully unfamiliar with what happens in LSDs. Yes people will sometimes pull together to build a hall or a rink, but there is no legal way for residents to, eg, stop an unwanted development. The zonings established by the province are so wide as to be unenforcable, plus there are no local officials to enforce them. “Most decisions” are made by a few, even where they affect the many. This is a real problem that is going to cause some major costs down the road.

    “septic systems-these will be regulated by the department of health no matter WHAT”

    Wrong again. These systems are largely unsupervised; the regs are a joke – there is no one to enforce them.

    You need to visit some actual LSDs and see how they function.

  3. mikel says:

    That’s a lot of opinion with not many facts in there. Saying things like “most” and “many” isn’t actually a persuasive argument. So what if some LSD’s are outside of cities? It’s not that big a province, ANY place isn’t going to be that far out. So what is people commute? What does that have to do with anything?
    Again, if people were unhappy with it, they would be clamouring for change. In rural areas this is LEAST of their concerns.
    What the above seems to indicate is that IF LSD’s are ‘close enough’ to cities and have X amount of people, then they SHOULD be amalgamated. Well, good luck with that. Fortunately Graham says he’s not interested, and Alward says it will all be up to the people-and since the last two referenda on the subject came back with a ‘no’ vote, then I don’t see it changing soon.
    I am NOT unfamiliar with what goes on in many LSD’s as I’ve been to many meetings where things WERE decided communally. As with anything in politics, not every place will be the same. So I would say that what WOULD be good is if the government put in place regulations which FORCED communal decision making rather than the dictatorship that Richard has seen. I’m not saying that never occurs, I’m debating how frequent it is, and suggesting a far more democratic alternative.
    As for legal ways to stop unwanted development, where exactly are you living? Marc Darcy has been fighting for years to stop ILLEGAL development and has had no luck, if you think the municipal structure lends itself to STOPPING unwanted development I don’t think Richard gets out of his suburb much.
    As for haphazard development, can we see some examples? Where exactly is this haphazard development taking place? Where in the rural areas is ANY development taking place, and exactly what is being set up there that is so objectionable? The biggest complaint from rural areas is that NO development is taking place.
    As for septics, the point is still that it is the jurisdiction of the province, so having a municipal structure like moncton isn’t going to change that. Moncton can’t even protect their water table let alone police septic systems.
    As for “most decisions are made by a few”-what exactly do you think happens with your local council? How many are there? In a city of how many?

  4. Ask the Association of Francophone Municipalities executive director if this is ‘the least’ of her concerns. You may be right that the LSDs living off the adjacent urban centre are not particularly interested but I think as you go further out, you would get far more interest among those that think about these things. Sure, if you want to stop the conversation in its tracks, you just have to say it means higher taxes for those in LSDs.

    But community leaders have the responsibility to think about the larger picture and if people assume (as is the implication) that smaller = more democracy and more power to the people, why not sub-divide New Brunswick into 75,000 municipalities of 10 each. It’s just not true. Despite the abstracting of definitions, in the end, ‘power to the people’ is a numbers game – just ask protesters if they would rather have a march on Fredericton with 100,000 people or with 10.

    I would say, it goes without saying, that scale doesn’t = democracy and power to the people either. But as I said in the original post, if that scale gives enough horsepower to influence take more control over local destiny, that is a step in the right direction.

  5. richard says:

    ” So what if some LSD’s are outside of cities?”

    The Finn report has the numbers. The largest LSDs population-wise are outside of cities, with most residents working in those towns. They are basically suburbs, not self-reliant independent communities.

    ” So what is people commute? What does that have to do with anything?”

    Everything. Ask around in LSDs where most commute to towns and you will find that it is often difficult to get many out to community meetings. If you commute to town to work, you shop there too. The LSD is just a suburb of seldom-interacting people, not a community as in days of yore. We have to deal with reality, not your fantasy land.

    “As for haphazard development, can we see some examples?”

    Take a tour of Burton and Geary nect time you are on your NB vacation tours.

    “As for “most decisions are made by a few”-what exactly do you think happens with your local council? How many are there? In a city of how many?”

    Those people are elected. In the LSDs, there is no town council; individuals set up small developments with little or no planning process or thought for future costs, set up businesses in places where there should not be businesses; local environments are being massively altered with no local input. What exactly is your problem with democracy?

    “The biggest complaint from rural areas is that NO development is taking place.”

    As was stated above, and as can be seen in the Finn Report data, most persons living in LSDs are near urban centers. They are basically suburbs developing in a haphazard and unplanned manner. Anyone can see this just by driving thru. These LSDs are not self-reliant; they are not self-sustaining.

    ” so having a municipal structure like moncton isn’t going to change that. ”

    You’d be surprised how big a difference a by-law officer would make. In urban areas there is far more enforcement of zoning regs and septic installations. That in one of the stated reasons people move to LSDs – less bylaw enforcment. Problem is, that just results in more environmental degredation and poor land use practices. Huge costs down the road to service delivery to these areas and remediate the problems being created. Who will pay for that?

    ” government put in place regulations which FORCED communal decision making ”

    That is part of what Finn is proposing. But it is not just a question of ‘who decides'; it is ‘who pays’. There are plenty of LSD suburbs near towns where NB DOT plows clean the roads. (and yes those areas get great service,comparable to the local town, where town plows do the job.) Those same towns often provide fire service to LSDs; again that does not show up on the LSD resident tax bill. LSD property taxes are not high enough to pay for those services. Its the same with road maintenance in these suburban areas – subsidized by people elsewhere in the province. I like the “FORCED communal decision making” phrase – but does that not sound a bit contradictory to you?

    “Marc Darcy has been fighting for years to stop ILLEGAL development and has had no luck, ”

    He’s had no luck because not enough people get as excited about it as he does. Democracy rules! Besides, he did get enough PR to at least embarrass the gov into laying a charge. Rock on Marc!

  6. mikel says:

    First, I grew up in Oromocto and thats where I spend my time when I visit. How exactly is the development in Burton or Geary ANY different than that in, say, Oromocto West? It certainly isn’t more ‘haphazard’. Development has taken place along federal lines-the transcanada. so Rusagonis was developed around the Irving big stop in an identical way that Oromocto was around the exit.
    Second, if you think ‘not enough people being excited’ is the definition of ‘democracy’ then, dude, thats WAY off. So again the trouble is that Richard sees the Finn Report as simply a way to amalgamate suburbs and make them pay more taxes. It’s the assumption that what we HAVE in municipalities is ‘democracy’, which isn’t the case at all.
    Third, IF there is more attention to zoning and septic systems in a municipality (no proof of this), then thats the fault of the province (we can note that the raising of septic registration in rural areas by 220% ought to cover increased inspection).
    Fourth, to state that those in LSD’s are ‘seldom interacting’ is no less true than with amalgamation. However, its often untrue, Geary is highly ‘regulated’ by the Greater Geary Association, and Burton has a group of “Burton Area Local Interests”. It’s true that there is seldom much interaction with such groups by NEW residents, mainly because as Richard says, they want LESS government, not more (although if you look at the developments in Geary and Burton they are ‘run’ almost identically to Oromocto).
    Fifth, for services, people from Geary pay more for an Oromocto library card, which isn’t much use, but there it is. They also pay more for the recreational services within Oromocto, they always paid higher admission costs for minor hockey to be able to use the rinks, which is why there were typically VERY few kids in Oromocto Minor Hockey who were from Geary-they played pond hockey for free.
    Sixth, what is ‘self sustaining’? No municipality is ‘self sustaining’, they all get grants from the provincial government, in fact look at the Fredericton Rowing Club which got $3000 from the province for its dock. So let’s not get into that.
    Seventh, as for the contradiction in ‘forced communal decision making’, why is that? You are assuming people don’t WANT democracy, whereas right now the problem is a lack of recourses to it. However, before 1854 there were no elections for representatives, they were all hand chosen. Then elections were instituted to let people elect representatives. While not exactly ‘democracy’ it brought decision powers closer to the population, why is that not better?

    But again, its not ‘necessarily’ more democratic, but it most often is. You COULD have a hand picked man who would say “OK, everything will be decided by community voting”. Or, you can have an election of five guys who make ALL the decisions. Why the latter is typically more democratic is because the former is so rare-but not impossible.

    As this is taking a democratic bent, let’s look at the Greater Geary Association, their website is online and you can read their history and what they want. They WANT to be able to incorporate without all the bells and whistles put in as obstacles. There are some things that can be worked out, for example one roadblock is HAVING to hire a full time administrator, which in a small area with only 5000 people is a big cost-and they aren’t allowed to ‘share’ the cost-say, with Burton, which is in the same LSD, but can’t have its OWN village without having its own administrator. Keep in mind also that MANY LSD’s have populations greater than many of the incorporated villages and even towns in NB, so your argument on representation by population goes out the window.

    By the way, there IS ‘local input’, as most LSD’s have advisory council’s. Problem is, that their ‘advice’ is not necessary. So again, its plenty easy to incorporate Geary as Geary, Burton as Burton, Lincoln as Lincoln, with a council in each. In fact, I’d suspect the reason the government DOESN”T want change is that it runs an entire bureaucracy dedicated to LSD’s, much like the feds don’t want native self government because an entire government bureaucracy would be out of work. If you look at the what MAY be the provincial savings, it may actually be cheaper to allow these areas to incorporate.

    Problem solved, but again that doesn’t necessarily make things more democratic than SOME LSD’s act now. That’s why my ‘fantasy land’ includes a thing called ‘democracy’, not just with municipalities, but provincially and federally (even globally).

  7. mikel says:

    Didn’t see David’s comments and my reply seems to have gotten lost, or if it shows up then readers can skip this.
    First, as for scale, that’s a good point-sort of. Nobody is talking about reinventing the wheel, which is again why I talk about citizens initiatives. A place the size of Fredericton CAN be more democratic than a small group of ten with three people making all decisions (ask any kid).
    This is why politics SHOULD be a conversation constantly going on. Ask any person in Oromocto West what they think of having two councillors in a seven council ward system when there is a higher population there.
    But as for LSD’s, lets look at Geary and Burton. Both these ‘villages’ are in the same LSD, but simply geography will tell you that they are NOT the same ‘jurisdiction’ and they don’t want to be. The Geary Association concerns itself with recreation in the area of Geary and has no idea of what goes on in Burton.
    But if the idea is that small areas SHOULD be amalgamated with larger ones then by David’s logic, you should simply get rid of ALL municipalies and simply govern as ONE. After all, the entire province has fewer people than Toronto, so why bother with all these cities and towns and worrying about borders and such things. Make it all ONE, and there is no more problem.
    Few people accept that, because people know their ‘local’ community. Ones who don’t tend to not mind taking over smaller areas because they assume that those in smaller areas don’t care either, or if they DO care then it should be irrelevant that they care.
    However, again, a relatively democratic way to find out is to see if people want it by holding a referendum-so far we know the answer. Now, again, people tend to like fascism when they can’t convince people to agree with them, then you just ‘force’ it on them.

  8. mikel says:

    Last point-this topic is of particular interest to me because of the democracy angle and the fact that here in Waterloo we are in the middle of an election with a referendum on amalgamating with Kitchener.

    I should say that there is a lot of agreement here, and I have to admit that any ‘grassroots’ democracy may not be the norm. I get that from reading many of the recommendations from many of the community organizations like the one in Geary, Burton, Kedgewick, Acadieville and Blackville. Like I said, it IS possible, but perhaps not the norm.

    After reading through the Finn report again (its been a couple years since we had this debate before), it very much strikes me as a guy trying to reinvent the wheel or perhaps trying to justify what may have been a hefty paycheque (maybe thats unfair, I don’t know).

    If you read through the recommendations one thing is VERY clear, in that it causes as many problems as it resolves-except perhaps the first one on people having a council. And again, one thing is notoriously missing-just like it was on the Commission on Legislative Democracy, which is even MENTIONING any kind of grassroots democracy such as they have in Maine or British Columbia.

    There are hundreds of ways to structure a government, but with no means for citizen participation you will never overcome people’s resistance. With no power for people in a rural area to decide whether THEY want a stop sign at the end of their street, you will never convince them that amalgamation with a larger political structure is a good idea. Until the democratic deficit is overcome, it just won’t happen. And simply having an elected council won’t do that. Rural people know that better than anybody, like I said, while rural people often get together to resolve things, they DON”T like being TOLD what to do, which is essentially what people in cities have learned to do.

    The Finn Report is WAY too comprehensive, which is no doubt why the author says it must ‘all’ be implemented (which is just stupid). But why there isn’t more movement on local governance, I suspect, is that local people demand local control and autonomy, and in Canada that’s a touchy subject. OK, thats it.

  9. richard says:

    “It certainly isn’t more ‘haphazard’”

    That is certainly not the case, as anyone who lives here can see.

    “(although if you look at the developments in Geary and Burton they are ‘run’ almost identically to Oromocto)”

    You should attend a council meeting in Oro; then attend one in Burton – or sorry, there aren’t any in Burton or Geary. So what the heck are you talking about. Oro has an elected council; the LSDs do not. What is it you hate about democracy?

    “Seventh, as for the contradiction in ‘forced communal decision making’, why is that? You are assuming people don’t WANT democracy,”

    Please make up your mind. You want to FORCE people to adopt the system you like; its ok if you are the one who decides?

    ” so your argument on representation by population goes out the window.”

    What are you talking about?

    “There are some things that can be worked out, for example one roadblock is HAVING to hire a full time administrator, which in a small area with only 5000 people is a big cost-”

    “So again, its plenty easy to incorporate Geary as Geary, Burton as Burton, Lincoln as Lincoln, with a council in each.”

    That is the real problem here. People in LSDs want some say in what goes on; they do not want a civil servant in Woodstock in charge of zoning and planning decisions. The problem is, to have a local admin costs money; to have local services costs money. People in LSDs want services and a local say but can’t face the fact that those services will cost money and cause their prop taxes to go up. The solution that Finn is proposing would form shared service units to achieve some of those goals. Why don’t you read Finn and see what he has to say instead of spouting off on what you think he says?

    “However, again, a relatively democratic way to find out is to see if people want it by holding a referendum-so far we know the answer”

    Fine, as long as they are willing to pay the costs. That’s what is coming down the road for residents of LSDs; much higher taxes or much reduced services. Then perhaps they will want another referendum – take us in please!

  10. mikel says:

    You don’t need a local administrator if there is very little to administer. That’s what democracy is FOR. Again, go look at any small town in the US or Europe and they don’t hire administrators, because there is little to administer.
    I’ve been to TONS of council meetings, and very few are about anything substantive, and like LSD’s all zoning decisions are pretty much “whatever the developer wants”. So if you are just going to do what a developer wants, you don’t need a council. Like I said, you do it democratically. Within Geary, if somebody wants to build a development, then the people of Geary hold a referendum and vote on it. THAT is democracy.
    In 1854 people were ‘forced’ to adopt what you call ‘democracy’, they didn’t VOTE on whether to adopt it. So why do you think this is any different? That is what democracy is, FORCING the government to hold referenda. If you have a mechanism, like they currently have in BC which is enabling them to force the HST to a referendum, that’s what democracy is. In order to bring that in, however, a government has to enact the legislation-ALL legislation is ‘force’. But again, you assume that nobody wants it.
    As for representation by population, I simply meant that David is arguing that its absurd to have too many ‘small’ villages and municipal councils, and I am saying that all of NB has fewer people than the city of Toronto, so by his reasoning, there need only be ONE city.
    To have a local say does NOT cost money. Volunteer boards were how the country spent its first several hundred years. Most LSD’s do not have nearly the number of issues of a place like Moncton. There is no municipal water, sewage, land, recreation, or business development. So there is really no need for a paid council. But again, if you looked at what the government takes in from the resources of LSD’s, I’ll bet it EASILY would cover any relevant costs.
    And again, go look at Geary, they HAVE their own services and are quite happy with them, they aren’t clamouring for anything from the government that is any different than any municipality is.
    I’ve read MOST of the Finn Report, and like I said, some of it is fine, but most is simply hypothetical legalese that it admits needs work. Now, if somebody wants to cost out exactly what Geary is paying out, and what it can get as part of a shared service district then by all means go for it. The threat argument doesn’t go very far when they already pay extra for the services they get from local municipalities.
    However, we agree on one thing that almost all LSD’s I’ve looked at have stated-namely, local decision making authority. So, lobby the government to do that, and then move on to referenda on whether amalgamation is desirable.

  11. I said that scale was important because it provides enough population and tax base to have more control. Local government still has to be about local issues but all these micro-jurisdictions have virtually no control and I think based on the thread here we all essentially agree with this point. So, go back to the original post. The People’s Alliance says that Finn was about less power to the people and less democracy and I think that is incorrect. Finn, theoretically, would have given more power to the people because more local decisions would be made locally.

  12. mikel says:

    Again, Geary more than qualifies in that regard, it has TRIPLE the population of St. George, which is currently a village. The Finn Report explicitly admits to agreeing with the study that points out the optimal administrative population is 5000-10,000. Which means that its ‘borders’ are completely arbitrary, which it also admits.
    And again, I”m not debating the close to 100 points in the Finn Report, some recommendations are good, some weird, some useless, and most depend on the details and the process-and some, I may add, simply change around the bureaucracy.
    But again, until the democracy deficit is dealt with, there IS no guarantee that there would be more democracy. There is a guarantee that they would be ‘more like’ current municipalities, but there’s a good reason why municipal elections barely get one third of the voting public out to vote.
    The People’s Alliance knows this, but I do agree that they are being as misleading in stating that it will mean less power to the people as the statement that the current municipal structure will guarantee MORE. Again, politics and society is very complicated, SOMETIMES it can mean either. So they are ‘somewhat’ right, just like the claims here are ‘somewhat’ right.

    It’s also worth pointing out that there is pretty much the admitted claim in larger cities that there is very little democracy. Here in Waterloo, not much bigger than St. John (population wise), many ‘local’ decisions are made by very active Neighbourhood Associations. BUT, not ALL neighbourhoods are in an association-like ours. The argument in amalgamating Kitchener-Waterloo is for cost savings and people are saying that there will be no change to ‘democracy’. For US, there wouldn’t be, the situation is the same. But for those neighbourhoods with associations, there will lose what democracy they have. See if you can find the analogy in there.

  13. mikel says:

    This is worth noting:

    “We advocate local government consolidation knowing full well that there is no clear consensus among academic researchers and analysts on the benefits of larger governance entities.1 The ability of consolidated government to produce the benefits promised by its proponents has not been unequivocally established. Some reviews have demonstrated that costs of merged governments are not necessarily lower than costs of individual governments and can even be higher.”

    And

    “There may be several reasons why it has not been viewed as the most desirable and feasible solution. It may suffer from an overall lack of balance. IT MAY BE PUTTING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AS SERVICE AGENTS AT THE EXPENSE OF THEIR DEMOCRATIC/DELIBERATIVE FUNCTION. It may evoke a loss of community identity and residents may likely feel somewhat remote from and less able to access their local government, thus eroding the concept of local decision-making. It may be too centred on the larger urban communities (the new regional municipal entities would, to a large degree, be centred on the present cities and large towns), resulting in cities and larger towns being too dominant and exercising too much influence within each regional municipality. Some may see it as unduly strengthening urban centres at the expense of suburban and rural communities.”

    There are the two main problems with Finn, admitted by Finn. Until those are dealt with, forget public support. But like Richard says, if a city can make amalgamation SO desirable, then other residents will be clamouring to ‘let me in’. In the case of a place like Geary or Burton, what you can do is simply ask them-do you want to be a village, or do you want to join Oromocto? Then those who want stand alone will make their best pitch, and the town of Oromocto would make its best pitch. Then you have a door to door referendum. THAT is democracy.

  14. richard says:

    “I’ve been to TONS of council meetings, and very few are about anything substantive”

    Well, the same will be true of most town hall or community meetings. Most issues are, on the surface, mundane. Most will find dealing with these issues boring, whether the mechanism is a vote to elect councillors, or a show of hands at a town meeting. Unless there is a hot button issue, turnout is going to be low. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why a professional staff is needed at the local level.

    “You don’t need a local administrator if there is very little to administer. ”

    If you have zoning bylaws, you need enforcement officers; if you have tax revenue, you need budget officers; if you have road maintenance, you need someone to manage that. There will plenty to administer locally; not to mention shared services administration.

    “But like Richard says, if a city can make amalgamation SO desirable, then other residents will be clamouring to ‘let me in’. ”

    It is not the municipalities ‘making the case’, it is the cost of providing services that is going to be the main issue. It is taxe rates that are the driver; ask LSD residents why they should not join larger units and taxes will be the main response. They like lower taxes, and who would not?

    If residents of LSDs were paying for the services they receive, then perhaps there could be a debate over whether joining forces with another LSD or a local town was desirable on its merits. At present, LSDs are not paying for the services they receive. Before we can have that debate, LSD residents have to start getting tax bills that reflect the costs of the services they now receive.

    Given the province’s fiscal situation, these changes are going to pushed on to us sooner rather than later. If people want to keep smaller units, then it is going to be up to them to pay the costs; the provincial subsidies are not going to be there. Once those costs are made apparent, there is a good chance that the desire for local autonomy will give way to systems that can keep costs down.

    ” Which means that its ‘borders’ are completely arbitrary, which it also admits.”

    The borders of the existing LSDs are arbitrary. Was there a vote to determine the borders of existing LSDs? Nope. I am not sure what your point is. Given the provinces geography and economic units, some amalgamated units will be larger in population than others. Some local units might opt for local control with shared services; some might opt for amagamation. There is no one-size fits all solution being proposed.

  15. mikel says:

    Uh, dude, hate to point this out:
    Recommendation: 3
    It is recommended that the present local service districts, rural communities, villages (with the exception of Campobello) and most towns be discontinued and reconstituted into larger municipal units and that the boundaries of the eight cities be redrawn to reflect the annexation of some of the present non-incorporated areas. (Chapter 6)”

    If thats not ‘one size fits all’ then I don’t know what is.

    Again, its simply not true that they are not paying their fair share. LSD’s are taxed for residences at a base rate of .65 dollars per hundred dollar assessed value. That’s only a dollar less than the city of Moncton. And when you consider that most get little sanitation service, have a septic system, a well, no library, few recreational facilities, etc., About all they have that is really concrete is plowing, and even that amounts to little considering that many LSD’s consist of one road through town. So I’d argue that by getting provincial grants and federal infrastructure money, its the CITIES that are being the deadbeats.

    As for the ‘necessities’, lets get real. Zoning bylaws need enforcement officers? I’ve worked construction and even here in Waterloo there are virtually NO zoning enforcers. Go talk to your city bylaw enforcer and ask them what they do all day-it isn’t watching developers. It’s doing all those annoying things that rural people don’t want them for-looking for people parking illegally on streets and noise complaints, etc.

    Collecting taxes is different, but once again if you look at how much the province takes in from these people-and I’d argue its more than they pay out-so until Richard can prove that point I don’t buy it, in fact the Finn Report makes this transparancy one its recommendations because its admitted that they simply don’t know-then the province could easily provide an accountant to handle such cases. I mean for heavens sake, when an entire reservation,no matter what size, is put under third party management, all the control reverts to ONE accountant who lives nowhere near the reserve.

    And Richard is exactly right, most decisions ARE mundane, which is why in a rural area a volunteer council can handle things quite easily, and refer ‘hot button’ issues to referenda. Simple. It’s even in the first part of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

    DENNIS: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take
    it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
    ARTHUR: Yes.
    DENNIS: But all the decision of that officer have to be ratified
    at a special biweekly meeting.
    ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
    DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
    ARTHUR: Be quiet!
    DENNIS: Or by a two thirds majority …
    ARTHUR: I order you to be quiet…

    Which of course is why he’s told to be quiet. A lot of people really don’t like democracy, and think that people they THINK aren’t ‘paying their share’ have to be made to, even though they don’t actually have the proof of that claim.

  16. richard says:

    “If thats not ‘one size fits all’ then I don’t know what is.”

    Dude, if you are going to deliberately distort what I have said, then it is clear you are only interested in rhetoric not solutions. Finn has not proposed one size fits all, he has proposed different solutions in different regions. Also, no one, not even Finn is suggesting that his report is the be all, end all. Lets see what the costs are for different scenarios, then decide. Right now, politicians are afraid to talk about the issue.

    ” Go talk to your city bylaw enforcer ”

    Dude, first you have to find a by-law officer. Where’s mine? As to your comment that ‘rural’ people don’t want noise by-laws etc – where’s your proof of that? Again, in the suburban LSDs, that is becoming an issue as suburbanites are asking for exactly those kind of by-laws. There is no one to complain to.

    “About all they have that is really concrete is plowing, and even that amounts to little considering that many LSD’s consist of one road through town”

    Again, you are distracting from the main issue, which is the suburban LSDs on the outskirts of towns/cities. These have many miles of roads that need to be maintained with a low density of residents per mile.

    I am not sure what you point is re a volunteer council. All councils are ‘volunteer’. Whether they get paid or not, whether they have a support staff or not, whether they decide to pass by-laws or not – are not those things that the residents themselves should decide? Again, you are confusing different issues.

  17. richard says:

    ” LSD’s are taxed for residences at a base rate of .65 dollars per hundred dollar assessed value..”

    That’s actually a huge difference when you calculate the value of the residence. Further, you are ignoring the huge differences re non-residential tax rates. Finn is proposing that each
    locality be free to set its tax rate to reflect its costs. Right now, we have a uniform rate for LSDs, regardless of the cost factors associated with each LSD. That is hardly fair.

  18. mikel says:

    Uh, yes he HAS. Its in the almost 100 recommendations. He has the maps redrawn and he DOESN”T say “lets let the local people decide”. He SAYS quite specifically that these places will be within the borders of the larger cities. In fact, the main problem with the report is that it clearly tries too hard to be the ‘be all and end all’, going into details of things that would be completely hypothetical at this point.

    These are not unregulated things as far as by laws go, but right now they are set by the provincial government, so a couple of years ago we saw provincial laws regulating just how delapidated you can let your property become. Its not like its anarchy out there. And rural people are quite well known to resolve things themselves.

    As for the suburbs that are on the edges of cities, if you aren’t talking about rural areas, then these are NEW suburbs which have a pretty high number of residents per mile. In Geary, for example, there is basically one large new suburb-the rest looks as it always has. In Burton there are about five of them, with a pretty high number of residents, and all fronting on one street-check out google earth.

    Now its you who is being distracting, you seem to be backing off earlier concrete statements in favour of ‘having discussions’ and nothing being ‘set in stone’. The Finn Report clearly says that these amalgamations should be FORCED. And that is where we disagree. One thing reading the Finn Report should tell anybody is what Richard is saying-that politicians SHOULD be talking about this stuff, but never do.

    It absolutely needs to be discussed, and all the costs need to be transparent. And yes, sometimes a smaller village simply won’t have the resources to hire as many people as they want, or have as many facilities as they want. Of course there’s no guarantee that being part of a larger city will get them those things either. The good thing being small does is help people be more cost effective through volunteering (which rural people already do quite well), as well as looking for new solutions. For example, Monctons solution for water was to privatize it, while there are numerous new systems out there now to cost effectively treat and supply water fore small subdivisions.

    But Richard keeps severely misunderstanding me. First, all councils are not ‘volunteers’, most are paid, and thats not volunteering. These ABSOLUTELY should be things residents decide, I’ve said that over and over again, pointed to the Greater Geary Association and pointed out that that’s exactly what they want but the province has numerous hurdles placed in their way. And the Finn Report does NOT leave the decision up to the people. Richard seems to think that if Harvey is amalgamated into Fredericton then ‘the people’ are speaking when the council of Fredericton makes decisions for Harvey. Thats NOT democracy.

    But its been an interesting topic, and this is sort of off topic but there are 700 private and public water treatment plants in New Brunswick, and a study called “Operational Deficiencies at Small Wastewater Treatment Facilities in New Brunswick, Canada” was done by the “Wessex Institute”, unfortunately they charge $30 for the report. But the executive summary places ‘regular maintenance’ at the top of its hit list.

    And again, most importantly is the whole idea of how municipalities are funded, that isn’t even addressed in the Finn Report, but is equally important (he only wants to get rid of unconditional grants in favour of ‘equalization’ programs for municipalities). This is the kind of debate that Alward, Graham, Duguay, those other guys I forget their name, should be having, not two guys at a blog, one of whom doesn’t even live in the province anymore.

  19. richard says:

    “He SAYS quite specifically that these places will be within the borders of the larger cities. ”

    Unless he lays out specific proposals, there is nothing to discuss is there? And they are proposals. He did not propose, e.g. that all munis have the same population or cover the same geographic area; he did not propose a one-size fits-all solution. He is just trying to find ways to marry two issues 1) muni funding 2) local representation; that means compromises no matter how you look at it.

    ” if you aren’t talking about rural areas, then these are NEW suburbs which have a pretty high number of residents per mile. ”

    Are you kidding? These are 1 acre plus lots! The point is these developments are becoming planning nightmares, with the province being given the responsibility to maintain roads, and everyone else in the LSD being stuck with the resulting traffic mess. Who voted in favour of that?

    ” And rural people are quite well known to resolve things themselves. ”

    What? When did, e.g. Burton residents, resolve to generate traffic on route 102 by permitting suburban developments to go ahead? You are living in a fantasy land.

    “And the Finn Report does NOT leave the decision up to the people.”

    The Finn report is not the govt of the day; it isn’t up to Finn; he just makes recommendations. Finn just points out that many people in this province have no recourse to a local council; he supports more local say, not less. He is just pointing out that local councils will have to deal with costs; its one thing to run your own muni – its another to pay the costs.

    “then ‘the people’ are speaking when the council of Fredericton makes decisions for Harvey”

    I suppose the residents of Forest Hills could say the same thing about council decisions. And the residents of Upper Burton could say the same thing about Lower Burton.

    “And again, most importantly is the whole idea of how mun aicipalities are funded, that isn’t even addressed in the Finn Report”

    yes it is addressed. He is proposing to abolish unconditional grants and transfer tax points to the munis; the munis then would have to examine their own costs and the residents there decide what they want and how to pay for it.

  20. mikel says:

    Actually, he DOES maintain they have the same population, at least in general. He maintains a minimum and specifies a maximum. The Finn Report is NOT a ‘proposal for dialogue’, it is a report that has almost 100 specific recommendations of “do this”, and now Finn is even stating that the report CAN”T even be broken up, that ALL the recommendations must be followed. So you are talking about ‘Richards plan’, NOT the Finn Report.

    Obviously you have never been to either Geary OR Burton, because the new subdivisions are NOT 1 acre lots. Some of the older rural areas have 1 acre lots, but not even many of those. Big lots are in the rural areas.

    As for the planning, again, the development in Burton and Geary is NO different than that in neighbouring Oromoocto, in fact you can easily say that it is far better. The zones are planned by the province rather than the municipality, and the province tends to pay more attention to voters. Every muncipal politician out there knows that only about 30% of people vote, and its VERY difficult to unseat a sitting member. However, like I said, a better recourse than letting Oromocto councillors OR the province do it, is to let the local residents. But if you think people have ANY power to affect zoning in municipal government then you REALLY don’t know about municipal government.

    As for funding and representation, these are two huge issues that are not covered much in the report, although its true he does say there can be ‘some’ leeway, but not around the cities (read the quote above again, and go look at old CBC reports from when the report comes out, he said specifically that these MUST be forced, not voted on).

    Anybody that knows ANYTHING about municipal government knows that funding is COMPLETELY out of whack. More and more responsibilities are being downloaded to municipalities with no way to pay for them. Over and over again even the current municipalities have lobbied saying they need new taxing powers. It’s not a surprise that they are clamouring to take over the suburbs because many can’t afford the current upkeep let alone advances in services (though they often seem to find money somehow for business parks).

    Finn doesn’t even TOUCH that issue. If you think that funding issues can all be resolved with getting rid of unconditional grants and setting up a system of equalization, YOU are living in the fantasy land. Most municipalities needed federal infrastructure money to make ANY investments.

    The bigger issue mentioned briefly is about the size of a democracy. One of the problems of creating a paid staff of administrators is that they tend to go around LOOKING for things to justify their paycheques. It’s worth noting that federal politicians in Switzerland don’t even have a permanent desk. In rural areas there ARE some issues, no doubt about it, but people want as little government as is necessary-particularly at the municipal level.

    So the question becomes-how do you decide on municipal borders? This is why the ‘discussion’ is so important, because politics never stays still. However, that’s one good thing about direct democracy, namely, when you have a referenda on issues, and not for representatives. You can go look at any muni council meeting in virtually any town and you will quickly notice that they vote along clique lines. So a place like Harvey is virtually ALWAYS at a disadvantage because Fredericton councillors vote in a block. However, there COULD be a situation where IF amalgamation were ‘offered’, then Harvey could be given control over certain resources.

    In Burton and Geary its different, there would be some debate about the actual lines, but its very clear that Burton and Geary are two separate areas. If the province were being set up on municipal lines, then those on the borders can simply be asked ‘do you want to be part of this town, or that one’. Those in subdivisions can decide through a referendum process. Again, that presents some problems, but not as many as now. But my point is that municipal structures need the democratic overhaul of having direct democracy in order to make them in any way equitable. SOMETIMES in a democracy things don’t go your way, but thats far different than our current municipal setup of a small council voted on by few of the electorate with powers over sections of a city they don’t even live in (granted, Finn does mention the SJ model of ‘at large’ councillors). THAT is my addition, since its clear we’re no longer debating whats actually in the Finn Report but what the optimal setup would be.

  21. richard says:

    ” NOT the Finn Report.”

    Last time I checked, Finn was not Premier, so it doesn’t matter whether or not he considers his report to be an end all – be all. No one else does.

    “He maintains a minimum and specifies a maximum”

    Now, again, you are moving the goalposts. Finn proposed a series of different models for different regions of the province. No one-size-fits-all model.

    ” The zones are planned by the province rather than the municipality, and the province tends to pay more attention to voters”

    Come on now, you are just making stuff up. In Burton LSD there are no zoning officers to enforce the policy; there is no option to revise or customize zoning to suit that LSDs needs. What do you have against local control and local democracy?

    “Most municipalities needed federal infrastructure money to make ANY investments. ”

    NB relies on a 50/50 funding with Ottawa for all major infrastructures. Are you saying NB should be governed by an administrator in Ottawa?

    “But my point is that municipal structures need the democratic overhaul ”

    Once again you are confusing two different issues. If the electorate want to run their muni on the basis of referenda, I don’t really care – I would not want to live there, but I don’t really care. The main focus of the Finn report is to address the absence of any local democracy in many parts of the province and to find reasonable ways to fund services in municipalities.

    “a small council a small council voted on by few of the electorate ”

    Turnout is turnout, whether you

  22. richard says:

    ” NOT the Finn Report.”

    Last time I checked, Finn was not Premier, so it doesn’t matter whether or not he considers his report to be an end all – be all. No one else does.

    “He maintains a minimum and specifies a maximum”

    Now, again, you are moving the goalposts. Finn proposed a series of different models for different regions of the province. No one-size-fits-all model.

    “Finn doesn’t even TOUCH that issue. ”

    That is completely wrong on several respects. First you are confusing ON with NB; there has not been much downloading in NB. Second, Finn does deal with funding in some detail. In fact, I’d guess that is the main rationale for the report: How to fund local services in a province that is less and less capable of operating those services.

    ” The zones are planned by the province rather than the municipality, and the province tends to pay more attention to voters”

    Come on now, you are just making stuff up. In Burton LSD there are no zoning officers to enforce the policy; there is no option to revise or customize zoning to suit that LSDs needs. What do you have against local control and local democracy? Why do you think that the province can do a better job of zoning decisions than a local body?

    “Most municipalities needed federal infrastructure money to make ANY investments. ”

    NB relies on a 50/50 funding with Ottawa for all major infrastructures. Are you saying NB should be governed by an administrator in Ottawa? Surely its the decision to proceed with the project at all that would be the most important step – and that should be a local decision.

    “But my point is that municipal structures need the democratic overhaul ”

    Once again you are confusing two different issues. If the electorate want to run their muni on the basis of referenda, I don’t really care – I would not want to live there, but I don’t really care. The main focus of the Finn report is to address the absence of any local democracy in many parts of the province and to find reasonable ways to fund services in municipalities.

    “a small council voted on by few of the electorate ”

    Turnout is turnout, whether you are electing a council or voting in a referendum. Why is one OK but not the other?

  23. mikel says:

    Then WHY are you arguing? What the debate is about here is the Finn Report and I’m talking about why it should not be implemented as it is. That’s the whole debate. As for contradictory, in one sentence you ask why I’m against local democracy and then say you don’t care if they are run by referenda. You don’t GET any more democratic than referenda.

    As for ‘model’ that depends what you mean. He has a ‘model’ for the province, but within each jurisdiction cost sharing can be ‘flexible’, although he maintains that the province be able to dictate the model if one is not done “in a timely fashion” (whatever that is). But he has a ‘model’ for the province-50 municipal districts.

    Again, as for funding, simply go email your local councillor and ask them about funding. Without the unconditional grants many of them would be bankrupt. While the downloading is certainly not as extensive-mainly because many of the municipalities have simply outrightly refused to fund many social services-Fredericton, for example, refuses outright to give ANY funding to the emergency shelter, however, many of the group homes in Moncton get municipal funding, as does Romero House in Saint John. I know of many group homes who were successful in getting local funding because otherwise they would have closed. But yes, there wasn’t as MUCH downloading because the municipalities as it is can only function through drastic increases in assessments. Like I said at the other blog, our assessment is actually much lower than what our home is worth and our municipal taxes-about what Moncton pays, also covers public education.

    Are you SERIOUSLY saying that new developers show up in Burton and say “hey great, we can do what we want!”?? It is regulated by the PROVINCE, the PROVINCE enforces it, and I’ll put money on it that they are enforced every bit as good as municipalities-which usually isn’t great. And again, you missed my last sentence. What YOU call democracy is Burton being swallowed up by Oromocto-then zoning will be done by Oromocto rather than the province. What difference is there that the people happen to live 20 minutes closer? What I said was that NEITHER should be the option, it should be up to BURTON, THAT is local. Go to Burton and ask them if they think its better to belong to Oromocto rather than have their own council. I grew up in Oromocto and know lots of people in Burton, and believe me, they do NOT feel like they are a part of Oromocto-and don’t want to.

    As for the two last points, I already pointed out where Finn HIMSELF says that people will think his report favours ‘service delivery’ over ‘local democracy’. He knows this because ITS TRUE. There is NO attempt to make the system any more democratic. Like I said, he even goes so far as to say that people should not even be allowed to decide whether they want to be part of a larger municipality or not.

    As for democracy, your final paragraph shows that we are so far apart on the meaning of democracy that there isn’t going to be any agreement. If you SERIOUSLY see no difference between voting for somebody in a municipal council race and voting on whether, say, to allow a Liquified Natural Gas Terminal in your community, then you simply have NO idea of what democracy actually means. Whether YOU like it or not, democracy means ‘ruled by the people’. It does NOT mean ‘ruled by a council’ whether they are elected or not.

  24. mikel says:

    “NB relies on a 50/50 funding with Ottawa for all major infrastructures. Are you saying NB should be governed by an administrator in Ottawa? Surely its the decision to proceed with the project at all that would be the most important step – and that should be a local decision.”

    That part is debatable but lets take it at face value. So the question is, whether Oromocto is better equipped to make a ‘local decision’ than the people of Burton. You are taking the cart before the horse. You are saying “once these new structures are in place then these will be local decisions”.

    This is wrong, and thats why the people of Burton do not want to be part of Oromocto. They WON”T be ‘local’. And actually, it can EASILY be argued that decisions made by a ‘local council’ are not “the most important step”. Was Fredericton building a new business convention centre a ‘local’ decision? Well, IF by that you mean did the local COUNCIL decide, then its true. Does that mean that that’s what the population of Fredericton wanted? First of all, we simply don’t know, but from the press it can clearly be argued that it isn’t.

    Just because a local council makes a decision, that does not make it democratic. The reason people DON”T like amalgamation (I mean smaller areas being amalgamated) is because they know that once it happens then they are always at the short end of the stick-both by council and even if there were referenda.

    This may seem like an academic exercise to people-local referenda aren’t on the cards by EITHER government OR Finn, and even those in local civic groups mostly want to set up a council and talk very little about direct democracy. But THAT is the problem. PEOPLE have been taken out of all these equations, and that explains why they aren’t interested. Even those at the Geary group have as one of their hurdles the fact that they need 50 people at a meeting to define a quorum, and they can’t even get 50 to most meetings.

    But until you resolve the democratic deficit, PEOPLE will always be a hurdle. Then decisions will have to be made by a very few people like Finn and Richard who simply want to ‘force’ their decisions on others. We don’t accept it from dictatorships, why should we accept from our own government?

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