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Newest government back-bencher tees off on N.B. local governance reform rollout

A recently-elected government back-bencher was highly critical of some aspects of local governance reform that took effect at the beginning of the year during a legislative committee meeting earlier this week.

Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin MLA Mike Dawson used a meeting of the public accounts committee on Tuesday to grill local government deputy minister Ryan Donaghy on some of the expanded responsibilities being given to the province’s 12 regional service commissions (RSC).

“Can you understand how people feel that they have been simply tricked into running for office to become tax collectors for their families, friends and neighbours for decisions made here in Fredericton by the province,” he said.

The province’s RSCs are made up of a region’s mayors and local service district representatives and have mostly confined themselves to the coordination of regional solid waste collection. But as of Jan. 1, the boards were given a suite of new responsibilities which include regional economic development and tourism marketing.

The costs for the expanded services are to be split by the various members of each RSC, based on population.

But some incoming councils in the Miramichi region are criticizing the decision by the transition team for the Greater Miramichi Regional Service Commission (GMRSC) to contract the City of Miramichi to providing tourism marketing and economic development plans for the entire region.

At a meeting of town council on Jan. 5, Doaktown voted to “take ownership of economic development and tourism” for their area and sent a letter to Miramichi mayor Adam Lordon expressing their concerns.

“We firmly agree that Village of Doaktown Council is far better suited to make decisions on our areas of economic growth and tourism priorities and how to present them,” wrote Doaktown mayor Arthur O’Donnell.

O’Donnell was not available for an interview but said in an email that he was looking to understand why the City of Miramichi was contracted to provide the services “without consultation with rural municipalities and other outlying communities.”

Councillors from the Miramichi River Valley municipality have also requested a meeting with staff from the GMRSC to go over the contract.

Dawson echoed those concerns raised by municipal leaders on Tuesday.

“I guess my question is, why did we have municipal elections if the municipal councils have no control and the City of Miramichi is going to control all of our economic development, tourism and their tax dollar spending,” he said.

The province’s deputy minister of local government and local governance reform Ryan Donaghy pointed out that the decision to give the contract to the city was made by elected representatives from around the region through transition teams that worked throughout last year to lay the ground work for when the reforms took effect on Jan. 1.

Those transition teams set budgets and contracted services, which were then approved by local government minister Daniel Allain.

And while the decision to award the contract for tourism marketing and economic development to the city has been made, Donaghy says it will be up to the new board to direct the city on how those goals are to be achieved, through the development of a regional tourism and economic development plan.

“What they do need to do, is ensure that a regional approach is taken to each of the new mandated services, which includes economic development. There are contracts in place or arrangements made if the RSC is the deliverer of those services, but those priorities will be set by those boards, by duly elected members going forward,” he said.

Miramichi mayor Adam Lordon says the city simply is simply being asked to fulfill those new legislated responsibilities of the RSCs.

“The city was approached by the RSC to deliver these services because it was identified by the RSC that the city could provide these services more effectively than anybody else and for the least amount of money,” he said.

“The city really had nothing to do with this other than to deliver the services for an agreed upon price and it was the service commission, mandated by the province, who ultimately set this course and direction into action.”

Under the agreement the city will receive $344,088 from the GMRSC, which will be split between the other municipalities that make up the RSC.

In fact, Lordon says that the city has already been providing tourism marketing for the region for the last few years, following the dissolution of the Miramichi Tourism Association.

“We’ve been already doing the regional tourism planning, just the other communities haven’t been contributing to pay for it,” he said.

“I think that was one of the ideas, one of the pillars of municipal reform is that every community, every citizen is paying for the services they receive.”

Dawson also expressed concerns that there is no exit clause in the contract, but Donaghy said the GMRSC board could vote to scrap it if they so choose, but they will still be required to fulfill the new mandated responsibilities on a regional level.

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