The unveiling of the names of the 77 new merged municipal entities represents a crucial step in the ambitious local governance reform currently underway. Perhaps not the most important, but certainly the trickiest.
The Minister of Local Government and the Reform of Local Governance, Daniel Allain, appeared on Wednesday in front of a microphone, at a press conference, to reveal how the municipalities will be baptized. More than the unveiling of a list, it was for the Minister the triumph of his vision.
Think about it. Dozens of towns and villages, several of which had always refused to work in collaboration with their neighbor, ended up agreeing (for the most part) on a common name.
Fourteen years after the Finn Report was shelved, another equally ambitious merger process is now moving forward unimaginably halted. This is exceptional.
Historically, the question of identity has always represented (along with tax increases) an obstacle to regrouping projects. It is therefore not surprising that the discussions did not go smoothly everywhere.
For example, on Lamèque Island, heated discussions took place to determine whether the new entity would be considered a city or a rural community, even though the law will make no distinction on this subject. In addition, Minister Allain admitted having intervened in a few cases. We presume that he must have used his influence or his authority in Haut-Madawaska and Shippagan.
We are particularly pleased to see that communities with a French-speaking majority have chosen a French name. The pressures and the temptation were strong in certain transition committees to find a way to appease the Anglophone minority.
A referendum was held in Saint-Léonard in 2001. What is at stake? Francisate the official name of the municipality, incorporated as Town of St. Leonard. The citizens had rejected the proposal. “63% of the voters of this municipality do not want to recognize a state of affairs, that is to say that they are French-speaking and in the majority. It is better not to displease Anglophones than to take responsibility,” lamented the editorialist Bruno Godin in the pages of Acadie Nouvelle.
To see the citizens of this same region choosing today to call their community Vallée-des-Rivières is heartwarming.
Several transition committees have managed, through meetings and consultations, to agree on name gems for their new municipalities. Appellations such as Belle-Baie (in the Chaleur region), Bois-Joli (in Restigouche), Beaurivage, Champdoré and Beausoleil (in Kent), are both French, unifying and make you want to visit these places.
All the municipalities in the province could have added a Grand or a Greater to highlight the fact that they were grouped together. Only Grand Bouctouche fell into this trap. It will also take time to get used to some unorthodox choices, such as Nouvelle-Arcadie (Rogersville region) or Hautes-Terres, which is far from being as seller as Paquetville.
The case of Rivière-du-Nord (Grande-Anse, Maisonnette and Bertrand region) is interesting. Geographically, it makes sense. The Rivière du Nord flows through most communities, including the area’s main attraction, the Village historique acadien.
Policymakers, however, lacked ambition. Grande-Anse is the gateway to the Acadian Peninsula. Maisonnette (with its beaches) and Bertrand (with the VHA) are popular tourist spots. If there is a place in all of New Brunswick that would have benefited from giving itself a tourist name with the word Acadie or the suffix -sur-mer, it is this one.
That being said, the important thing in all these cases is that the citizens adopt their new identity and make their amalgamated municipality grow together. It will come naturally in some places. It will be more difficult in others.
Adopting a common identity is an important step. This represents a great achievement for Minister Daniel Allain, for the Higgs government, but especially for the citizens of the 77 new municipal entities.
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New names, great success
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