Mayors weigh in on regional governance

All leaders open to working together to encourage growth

Melissa Jenkins 
Published on November 18, 2016

Sheila Fitzgerald is passionate about rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

The mayor of Roddickton-Bide Arm is also the small towns representative on the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) board.

Fitzgerald was joined by Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford at the Regional Economic Development conference in St. Anthony last week to speak during a session on regional governance.

They began by talking about the Harris Centre report about the drastic decrease expected in population of the region over the next two decades.

“The report is what it is,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a reflection of where we are right now.

Oldford agreed.

“That’s what’s going to get us through this, working together.”

For those in areas that are affected by an aging population or high out migration, it’s not uncommon to see the local government affected by it.

During the last municipal election in 2013, 45 per cent of councils went to the polls. The other 55 were either acclaimed or did not have enough people interested to fill all seats.

The duo agreed that in order to encourage more people to be a part of council, the stresses placed on the job need to be alleviated. Councils deal with water and sewer treatment, slow clearing and everything budget related. It’s a lot of responsibility for a volunteer position, Fitzgerald said.

Regionalization has been spoken about for decades in the province, including the Northern Peninsula. MNL has been part of discussions on how to execute ideas, and that is one thing that has the local leaders talking.

For Keith Billard, the mayor of Flower’s Cove, the issue goes beyond regionalization. The issue for him is about control of certain aspects of municipalities by the provincial government. He’s an advocate for control of Crown lands within a municipal boundary to be the responsibility of individual towns.

The town could then approve subdivisions and give more businesses building permits to grow, he said.

For Gerry Gros, mayor of Anchor Point and chair of the local organization of joint councils, regionalization still seems a long way off.

“I’ve been talking about it for 15 years,” he said. “The way things are going, it’ll be another 15 years.”

Both Billard and Gros discussed unincorporated communities as well.

Billard questions if a community is not paying for certain services because they are not incorporated, then why would they want to regionalize?

Gros wants to see the unincorporated communities and local service districts start paying more of the costs to upkeep their infrastructure.

For Ern Simms, mayor of St. Anthony, it’s about working together for a higher purpose.

“We’re trying to work together so it’s cheaper, but that’s the wrong idea,” he said.

St. Lunaire-Griquet mayor Dale Coombs is all about inclusiveness and working together. She is on the board for St. Anthony Basin Resources Inc. (SABRI), a collaborative group within the region. The group uses funds raised and earned to disperse to neighbouring communities to help out. She believes this shows the success that working together can have.

Besides Simms, the rest of the panel agreed that regionalization was a good option. Simms’ response was maybe, because he believes there are many things that have to be discussed and worked out before they are just implemented.