W.E. (Bill) Belliveau
742-2019-July 6– It’s all about the numbers...
There’s been a lot written in the last few months about the need for municipal reform in New Brunswick,
healthcare and education. Most of the commentary has come from academics and retired public servants
– virtually nothing from our politicians. Municipal reform is discussed in terms of rising costs, the need for
greater efficiency, the unfair application of property taxes and the sharing of tax revenue. We hear about
healthcare in terms of doctor and nurse shortages even though we have the highest per capita number of
doctors and nurses in Canada. We talk about a shortage of paramedics, unmanned ambulances and half
day waits in hospital emergency rooms. In education, we hear about low literacy rates, the issues of
inclusiveness, French immersion, the high rate of high-school drop-outs, the cost of post-secondary
education and the burden of student loans.
It’s rare that any of these issues are discussed in the context of populaltion size and distribution over
73,440 square kilometres. We have an estimated 761,000 people living in New Brunswick. All we hear
about our population is the loss of our young people, an aging workforce and a growing seniors
population. We have more than 300 municipal governance units in New Brunswick including, cities,
towns, incorporated villages and Local Service Districts to serve an estimated 761,000 people. It’s a
recipe for waste and ineffeciency. We enjoy few economies of scale. We suffer from a duplication of
services. We over-invest in under-utilized heavy equipment (snow removal and fire-fighting). When
anyone mentions gte word efficiency, we immediately think amalgamation and run for the trees.
Here’s the reality. The cost of service delivery in rural communities is twice the cost of delivery of services
in urban communities, yet residents of rural communities pay considerably less in property taxes than
urban residents because tney receive fewer municpal services. In the twenty-first century, we can’t afford
the cost of more than three hundred municipal governance units to serve an estimated 761,000 people.
We can’t afford to subsidize our rural communities at the expense of our urban communities. Rural
residents use the services of urban centres, they should pay part of the cost.
In 2019, an estimated 65 percent of New Brunswick’s population live within the Cencus Metropolitan Area
(CMA) of Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton. Another 20 percent live in the CMAs of Bathurst,
Miramichi, Edmundston, Campbellton, Grand Falls, Woodstock, Sussex, Caraquet and St. Stephen. At
most, we need a dozen municipal governments in this province and we need a single property tax rate
applied to the assessed market value of homes, businesses and property.
On the matter of healthcare, at most we need half a dozen hospitals supported by a primary care system
that includes a network of 7/24 “urgent care” clinics (ambulatory care in a dedicated medical facility
outside of a traditional hospital emergency department) and a highly trained team of paramedics
operating from a fleet of high speed ambulances equipped with the latest in mobile trauma technology.
That would help solve our shortage of healthcare professionals and improve service dramatically.
On the subject of education, population numbers and distribution are again just as important as they are
in municipal governance. We have more than 300 schools K-12 in New Brunswick many of them half full
or less.. At most, we probably need amix of about 48 schools across K-6 primary, 7-9 middle school and
10-12 high school. We have an excellent community college and university system in New Brunswick. We
probably need to add a technical institute and a medical school but most importantly, we need to find the
ways and means of keeping more of our young people in post-secondary education and more of our
garduates in New Brunswick.
W.E. (Bill) Belliveau
One way to do this might be some sort of civic ROTC scholarship program attached to a five year, post
graduation contract of residency and employment. If we want to be a truly bilingual province, we need to
have a single bilingual school system K-12. All of this could lead to a better educated work-force. To
support and retain that workforce, we also have to invest in productivity to get rid of low wage jobs that
few people want to do anymore and to make us more price competitive in global trade markets.
That means fish plants run by robots. That means forest harvesting done by roboticized machines. That
means high-tech farming. That means increased scale and automation in our manufacturing sector. That
means a greater emphasis on reasearch and devlopment in our universities, in our hospitals and our IT
sector. It could also mean the end of employment insurance subsidies in our seasonal industries.
We can no longer hope to survive on federal transfers and the comfort of institutional services in every
village. It’s too expensive and we can’t afford it. Most significantly, it’s too hard and often impossible to
attract and retain the skilled people to run these institutional services and live in small communities,
distant from the intellectual stimulous of larger communities. We need to convince our young people there
is a future for them in New Brunswick and we need to aggressively recruit new residents who will bring
new ideas and new businesses to this province. We need to double our population. 761,000 people is
barely enough to form a city. It’s certainly not enough to support a provincial government.
Nothing will change in New Brunswick without a fundamental change in how we organize ourselves as
people and how we increase our value through education and innovation. We need leadership that
understands the need for change and we need framework legislation that commits to specific goals,
defines what’s needed to achieve those goals and maps out the road to succss.
W.E. (Bill) Belliveau is a Shediac resident and business consultant. He can be contacted at