Danny Williams and his crowd had a big enough majority to shove regionalization down our throats and still get elected, but his government wouldn’t do it.
What is poor maligned Kathy Dunderdale to do? If I was her, I’d be terrified to speak the word regionalization.
The crowd running for leadership of the Liberals won’t take it on because it is too easy to turn discussion into “amalgamation” and that word will crucify any wannabe provincial politician.
Anything that suggests governance of small towns has to change will be met by outraged rhetoric from the NDP and then supported by commentary about the destruction of the Newfoundland way of life. God be merciful to the politician who takes up that flag.
Having attended the school of “God hates a coward,” I am wading in. I live in hope one of the provincial parties will have the courage to find a way to have this conversation and the other two don’t use dinosaur-age rhetoric to shout the courageous down. And I hope you, the voter, don’t buy into the rhetoric. There is simply not enough money to keep the system going.
After the election, things will quiet down for a while, but the heavy lifting will begin. Projects will be debated, decisions made and money applied for. Municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador don’t get past that point without provincial input. We have a Department of Municipal Affairs because the province actually manages its municipalities. Aha! You thought this was done by the crowd you’re about to elect. Not so.
The Municipalities Act is a piece of provincial legislation governing exactly how your elected officials navigate their responsibilities. There are regional offices of provincial employees whose job it is to make sure that happens. They actually have to approve your municipal budget!
A very sticky proposition
So, you may ask: We have elected a crowd to make decisions so why do we have another group riding herd on the same work? I wonder myself. The answer is a very sticky proposition: It is political suicide to tackle it and economic suicide not to.
Newfoundland and Labrador has 289 registered municipalities representing 89 per cent of our population. If you remove St. John’s, Mount Pearl and CBS, you have taken out one-half the population but only three governance structures. We are left with 286 for approximately 228,000 people. Each requires an elected council staff, snowplows, fire trucks, shingles on the community halls, etc.
Most of these communities do not have the resources to develop or maintain the quality of infrastructure the Western World has come to expect.
Enter Municipal Affairs, which steps in to cost-share — often to the tune of 90 per cent. As a businessperson, if I was carrying 90 per cent of the financial investment, I’d be riding herd on it too. I would also be making darn sure I wasn’t duplicating services. This is where it all unravels.
The major shareholder is afraid to say no to us and we aren’t going to turn down 90 cent of the cost of a new building now, are we? Why would we? Even if we can’t afford to re-shingle it when the time comes.
Do you want your government to keep digging us deeper in debt so that some crowd in a local service district just outside your boundary don’t have to pay for their own snow clearing? Well, I don’t, and will not go quietly into the night.
An important place to start the conversation is this fact: small town and rural areas are not the same thing.
Until this is publicly recognized, we can’t get past the “destruction of rural Newfoundland” argument.
Steady Brook, Little Rapids, Boom Siding, Portugal Cove-St. Phillips and Torbay are all small towns; they are not rural.
These communities (as a sample) are all within a half-hour of major medical services, education, shopping and paid employment. They do not, even at the wildest stretch of the imagination, depend on historical resource harvest for their livelihood.
To fund their infrastructure to the same level as we fund LaPoile, Rose Blanche, Pacquet and many other “rural” communities whose livelihoods still depend on primary resource harvest — and are a serious distance from a major health-care facility, shopping and education — is just plain nuts! The greater sense of who we are as a culture is not served by refusing to face this fact. The rest of Canada has some kind of county/regional system. It will happen in Newfoundland and Labrador.
If we embrace it now, we have a chance at doing it well. If it has to be forced down our throats through economic crisis, we won’t own it and we probably won’t like it.
You the voter can help your municipal politicians participate in the discussion by giving them your support to do so.
Elected municipal politicians: I challenge you all to have meetings with your adjacent towns to find common ground. Provincial politicians, current and future: do not shy away from this conversation. It may be the most important economic issue you are refusing to face.
And to the pundits: don’t do us the disservice of pulling out rhetoric about destruction of our historical way of life. That ship has sailed. Not one historian among you want the life your great-grandparents were forced to live 100 years ago.
Change is inevitable. Controlling it is optional, but highly recommended.
Donna Thistle is the outgoing mayor of Steady Brook. She is also a business owner in Corner Brook and has or currently serves on the boards of Flowers Canada,
Revenue Canada Advisory, Junior Achievement, Marble Mountain Development Corp, Board of Referees for HRDC, Rotary Club of Corner Brook, Writers at Woody Point and many others. She has considerable experience in governance on a national and local level.