Moncton, New Brunswick - On Thursday, the government released its White Paper on Local Governance Reform. Throughout the public consultation process, New Brunswickers expressed repeatedly that sustainable land use planning, environmental and agricultural protection, and climate change adaptation and mitigation must all be properly considered in moving to restructure our systems of local governance. While the White Paper undoubtedly proposes big changes, a working group of the New Brunswick Environmental Network believes that the government could and should make better use of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring in tools for more stringent environmental management and true sustainable development at the local level.

The working group argues that the proposed significant reduction in the number of local government entities points to a pressing need for greater regional collaboration on environmental issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries. Careful consideration must be given to any potential amalgamation around watersheds (or partial watersheds), airsheds, foodsheds, or wildlife corridors, not unlike the consideration given to the creation of communities of interest formed around language, culture, and heritage. Climate change adaptation plans, including adaptation for key economic sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and fisheries, must also take a regional approach, understanding that no one community is immune to activities undertaken by its neighbours. Unfortunately, the expanded role of the regional service commissions does not specifically include environmental protection and planning, nor does it give any mention to climate change adaptation.

“When we draw new lines on a map, we need to recognize how natural boundaries, such as watersheds, will impact our communities in the future. While the White Paper proposes major changes, there is an opportunity with this reform to ensure local governments, regional service commissions, and rural entities are supported with increased access to environmental expertise and services such as sustainable land use planning, climate adaptation and mitigation, and natural asset management. This is critical to the development of vibrant, sustainable communities in New Brunswick. Increased environmental expertise and services at these local levels can benefit from strong leadership at the provincial level through things like the proposed Statements of Public Interest, strong environmental laws and regulations, and their proper enforcement,” stated Adam Cheeseman, Director of Conservation with Nature NB.

The working group also argues that municipalities need greater access to various forms of authority, powers and fiscal levers currently outside their purview to encourage sustainability solutions at the local level. This includes more latitude to produce and distribute locally generated renewable energy and encourage energy efficiency at the household level through innovative taxation and incentive programs,
such as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), popular in several other provinces, including neighboring Nova Scotia. As for the proposed Statements of Public Interest, they are welcomed, but must not be seen as a substitute for strong environmental laws and regulations and their proper enforcement.

“Municipalities across the country have shown that they are often willing to go beyond provincial and federal standards for environmental protection. The laws that structure our systems of local governance must be amended to allow them to more easily do so. We are pleased to see Statements of Public Interest included in the White Paper, but the devil is in the details and we will be watching closely to make sure these reflect the right environmental priorities,” stated Lois Corbett, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

Finally, since rural residents are often the first to witness adverse changes in our natural environments and are the first to report unchecked and unsustainable resource development, pollution, or extractive activity, environmental groups argue that the proposed reforms and amalgamations must respect the will of the people and must ensure that rural voice remains strong even as smaller communities merge to become larger ones. Social license has now become a prerequisite for development of all sorts. Achieving social license and acceptability becomes increasingly difficult the further removed local residents become from decisions that affect them.

“Any proposal for local governance reform, should recognize that along with language, culture, and heritage, nature and access to nature is a main factor in shaping collective identity, sense of place, and belonging. Local residents live on the front lines of resource development in this province. We generally know what’s best for our communities and we can act as good stewards for the land when given the chance and given a voice”, stated Serge Larochelle from the Groupe de développement durable du Pays de Cocagne.


For more information, please read the NBEN’s full brief here.

For comment, please contact:

Jon MacNeill, Communications Director, Conservation Council of New Brunswick


Adam Cheeseman, Director of Conservation, Nature NB


 © 2018 NBEN / RENB