After reading the piece on Lise Ouellette this morning in the TJ it got me back on theme I have written about before – what is a Tory in New Brunswick?
It seems to me that a fundamental opportunity would be for the Tories to take up the empowerment of local regions within New Brunswick mantle – a la the Finn Report but I have heard many Tories argue against the principles of that report.
David Cameron got elected talking about transforming the way government is done in the U.K. by pushing decision making and authority down to the local/regional level.
The argument in New Brunswick has always been that we are ‘too small’ and you can’t have all that ‘duplication’ and that is why – take a stab at it – 95% of all government decision making is done in Fredericton. Even municipal funding is primarily controlled by the province.
A city manager of one of the big three municipalities in the province once told me he hadn’t seen a single official from the provincial department overseeing local government in three years. I won’t say which city or which government but I think you get the point.
While that seems like a relevant point – that scale matters and that is why everything is done in Fredericton – the reality is that people live in communities. Economic development happens in communities. Schools are in communities. Hospitals are in communities.
When I went on my cross province interview tour last year for a project I was struck by just how quick everyone from Saint John to San Quentin was quick to blame Fredericton (and secondarily Ottawa) for their problems. It seemed to me that it has become easy and convenient to do this.
I’d like to see the Finn Report debated, maybe tweaked and then brought into power. What do we have to lose? When the county system of government was scrapped back in the 1960s, Northern New Brunswick’s population was growing at a healthy rate. Now it’s in fairly steep decline. We have equalized government service delivery, yes, teachers in Tracadie now make as much (within a range) as teachers in Moncton but we have extracted any control over the destiny out of these areas and placed it in Fredericton.
The hope is that a beneficent leader will come along and save us (whomever us is).
I think it is worth a try. I don’t want a situation where the government sets the Acadian Peninsula apart like a seperate administrative district such as Northern Ireland. We still need the horsepower and capacity of the provincial government in Fredericton to work for all areas of New Brunswick.
But we need to find a way to have the local community put skin in the game. They need to feel like they own it and they have some control over their destiny.
And I think that’s at least partially the message of Lise Ouellette.