Just how civically engaged are we? And how can we create systems that better address the shift in population?
Craig Pollett CEO, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador
Let’s get the bad news out of the way. If you’ve paid attention to the state of our municipal system at all in the last decade you already know it. Most municipalities don’t have a sufficient local tax base to provide the services residents want. Most councils cannot generate enough candidates to have an election. Most municipalities have one or fewer staff, which is insufficient to provide basic services. Most municipalities can’t manage their drinking water systems effectively. Most municipalities are currently breaking a federal law because they cannot afford to treat their wastewater. Most communities have no municipal government at all.
This is all kinds of wrong. Today, young families, newcomers and returning residents expect modern services – clean drinking water, effective wastewater treatment, up-to-date recreation facilities, to name a few. Most municipalities are in no position to respond. That’s why a lot of people are calling for a regional approach to municipal government. They aren’t wrong, but there are better reasons for moving to a regional system. It is better at doing municipal government. Regional is how the world does municipal government.
A regional approach provides a larger tax base. It means new and better municipal services – ones that local councils cannot afford on their own. A regional approach means better land-use planning. Heck, it means land-use planning. Period. It means a much better use of existing and future resources: fire trucks, fire fighters, plows, loaders, money. And it means a better local democratic system – one that can engage with residents.
We already live our lives in regions. We work, shop, go to school, get health care services and do all the things that make up a life across several communities. We are already living regionally. We need our government systems and public services to catch up with us. Not because we are in crisis – although we are – but because it would be the best solution even if we weren’t.