The push towards regional government continues

Councillors discuss pros and cons at meeting of municipal leaders in Gander

Published on January 31, 2017

On a Friday night most people begin to wind down from the week. Not so for a group of approximately 70 community leaders across the province who attended the Municipalities Newfoundland Labrador (MNL) Central Regional Meeting in Gander this past weekend.

This group was deep into a discussion on a heavy and complex topic, one that will affect many people in the province.

Craig Pollett, CEO of MNL, lead the discussion on “Public Consultation on Regional Government: Are You Ready” to prepare these leaders in their communities.

Pollett said regional government will take place, and provincial government’s aim for spring 2018 is “ambitious”, but it will happen eventually.

“The provincial government can’t let the sector exist the way it is right now, or for the next 20 years (so) we either get ahead, and influence it, or complain in 15 years from now how the provincial government did regional government,” said Pollett.

Change is not without challenges though.

“There is a lot of mistrust and frustrations because people have been running these towns for a very long time, with very little resources, not able to provide things residents want them to do, and now, we are talking about changing the system,” explains Pollett.

There is a general trend in many communities, particularly smaller ones, with an unwillingness by residents to fill council positions.

Setting up a regional government system that works properly, according to Pollett, gives communities tools and resources like better land use planning and engineering resources. In turn, “people will run for council if they know they have the resources to make a change.”

There is cautious acceptance of regional government from smaller and larger communities.

Shawn Grimes is deputy mayor of Miles Cove, a small town with a population of about 100. Most of them are seniors with fixed incomes. He says that their ability to absorb tax increase is limited, and the town provides the best service it can with limited resources.

Grimes sees regional government as a lifeline for his community as a source for additional resources. However, with the details still being finalized, he is cautiously optimistic.

Dennis Simms, councillor from Appleton, is optimistic with MNL’s direction.

“There are not enough resources to sustain, and enhance small towns”, he said, adding that, “MNL is finding ways to be sustainable by lobbying the provincial government.”

Simms said that with regional government, “there will be a consolidation of resources. However, with a bigger entity, there will be more demands, and it doesn’t get any easier” to balance the budget or provide those services.

He agrees that regional government is needed, but some questions have to be answered: “Will it cost more? Will it be more efficient? Will it have more influence with the people who have more influence on the resources?

“The devil is in the details,” Pollett said.

A Municipal Symposium is scheduled for May in Gander, where MNL plans to have their regional governance position ready and details fleshed out based on consultations.

For more information about MNL, go to www.municipalnl.ca.