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Bristol’s Hope chairman opposed to amalgamating with neighbours

By Patrick Newhook/March 10, 2022

Questions are being raised about what will happen to unincorporated communities with the release of the provincial government’s Regionalization Report.

The report, released February 2, outlined the benefits of communities sharing services and working together in the face of declining populations and other challenges.

Municipal and Provincial Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell, who is a former town councillor and the current MHA for St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows, sees the advantages in regionalized services.

“The discussion has been ongoing for long before my time here in the department,” said Howell. “The government now recognizes that we have to make some important decisions in order to maintain sustainable and viable communities that will attract people all across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador… We want to be able to provide services to people right across the province that are efficient and effective and fair and that make life more viable for people across the province.”

The report was met with mixed reactions.

Richard Johnson, the chairperson of the Development Association in Bristol’s Hope, a community of 300 located between Harbour Grace and Carbonear, said it’s a discussion that needs to happen for the future of communities like his.

“I look at it this way,” said Johnson, “the government has to do something. We realize that and with a report like this they’re identifying the needs of communities, they’re identifying the needs of municipalities, they’re identifying ways of bettering things and delivering different services.”

Howell, meanwhile, noted regional municipal governments are nothing new in Canada.

“We are going to do a full analysis and extensive review on what has been recommended and figure out what works for the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said the minister. “Regionalization is not a foreign concept. We are one of the only places in Canada which doesn’t have some form of regional government. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here, but we certainly do want to make it appropriate and applicable for the people of the province.”

Johnson is mixed on this. While he feels that it makes sense to help manage smaller towns, it could end up being overdone.

“There has to be some way, some level of governance that has to control or look at these areas that are unincorporated,” said Johnson. “I agree that the government at this point in time in the world is strapped for money. Outside the bigger metropolis of St. John’s – areas like Gander and Corner Brook – you have these smaller municipalities and they are in no doubt having trouble raising finances. People are leaving the province, so a regional government would be an answer to deal with that. In saying that, it almost would look like they’re double tiering the political or municipal structure of something.”

The Regionalization reports pointes out that Local Service Districts are limited when it comes to providing services to its citizens, who don’t pay the same level of taxes when compared to people living in an incorporated municipality.

Asked if the government will try to encourage LSDs to join neighboring towns, Howell said that discussion is still very early.

“When we looked at that, they (the board that wrote the report) did give the recommendation that LSDs are functional and have the ability to provide adequate services, but have the potential to incorporate,” said Howell.

Johnson is against the idea.

Bristol’s Hope is not a municipality and it does not have a LSD, but rather a Development Association, he argued. Development Associations are limited in what they can do. For years they have tried to make Bristol’s Hope an LSD to give the community more of a say without any luck.

Bristol’s Hope sits between two towns, Carbonear and Harbour Grace and gets its fire protection from the latter. Johnson said he doesn’t want to speak for the whole community but does personally feel that although they could join onto another town, it wouldn’t actually benefit Bristol’s Hope.

“What would be one of the benefits if you would join onto a council?” he asked. “For availability of services? What services can either of those communities offer to Bristol’s Hope? When we look at garbage collection, we are paying a regional fee; for fire protection we are playing a service fee. We could go to Harbour Grace or we could go to Carbonear to set up fire protection. What other service can they provide us? If I want a streetlight, I’ve got one. I’ll put up my own streetlight and pay Newfoundland Power. I have my own water, they can’t give me water, they can’t give me sewer, that’ll never happen in my lifetime in this community. Harbour Grace or Carbonear will never be in a position to provide water or sewer, and I don’t think the province of Newfoundland could ever afford it in the millions of dollars to put water and sewer down here… What services can you as a municipality offer Bristol’s Hope other than hitting us with a property tax?”

As to Bristol’s Hope forming its own town council, Johnson said that would depend on the details and he isn’t sure how people would feel about it. Johnson said right now the community is doing fine as is.

“My own personal take on this, and I’m not speaking for all the members of the community, but I am speaking for myself, I think that if a regional government was formed to look after this area, leave us where we are,” said Johnson. “Give us a voice on that government side. In other words, don’t have somebody like Harbour Grace or Carbonear speak for Bristol’s Hope. Let Bristol’s Hope have its own voice.”

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