Declining population shows need for regional governments, says MNL president
Demographic changes in province to be major topic at MNL annual conference
CBC News Posted: Oct 05, 2016 10:03 PM NT Last Updated: Oct 05, 2016 10:03 PM NT
Two senior officials with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador say it’s time to start thinking outside the box when it comes to running the 276 communities spread across the province.
The group is having its annual convention this week in St. John’s, which comes just after Tuesday’s release of a report showing rural areas are set to see a dramatic population decline over the next several decades.
With communities outside of St. John’s expected to drop in population by half in the next 20 years, MNL President and Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford says it is getting harder and harder to fill town council positions, and get the necessary municipal tasks done.
“I’ve had mayors out cleaning screens to the town wells to ensure people have clean drinking water,” she told CBC Radio’s St. John’s Morning Show.
“They just can’t get anyone else to do it.”
Need for regional system
One of the main causes of the demographic problems in so many Newfoundland and Labrador towns is simply that more people are dying than are being born.
A relative lack of immigration outside of St. John’s, with even immigrants who do come tending to only stay for a few years, means many rural regions are seeing a significant natural decline in population, according to MNL Executive Director Craig Pollett.
Pollett says in order for the democratic process to be maintained – and for residents’ needs to be addressed – it’s time for different towns to pool their resources.
“With 276 municipalities, we need some sort of regional system,” he said. “We need new ways to get things done.”
Premier Dwight Ball said Wednesday that he would support municipalities that wanted to work together but won’t force regional government.
In addition to consolidation, Pollett says there needs to be greater immigration to the province, and greater incentives to keep immigrants here.
Currently, the province takes in less than 400 new people per year, and Pollett says more needs to be done to ensure they don’t leave for elsewhere in Canada after a few years,
“Even with lots of support and programming but at the end of the day they need a job to start a business, and that’s where we need to start having a very serious conversation,” he said.