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OPINION: The Exodus of Municipal Leaders



Thursday nights are often reserved for research as I prepare for Monday's new episode of Municipal Affairs with Chris Brown. Tonight, while delving into the state of municipal politics in the Province of New Brunswick, I stumbled upon a stark and concerning reality - there are currently 19 vacant council seats scattered across various communities. This discovery has not only raised questions about the state of municipal politics in New Brunswick but also cast a spotlight on the broader challenges facing local governance across Canada.


Now, New Brunswick isn't alone in the exodus. In Canada's smallest province - Prince Edward Island - there are currently 14 vacancies on councils across the province. We are slowly working our way west but in two provinces there are more than 30 vacancies on councils.


This wave of vacancies has prompted a litany of pressing inquiries. Are municipalities struggling to retain dedicated leaders? Have municipal politics lost their allure, failing to captivate individuals with the promise of fulfilling and impactful careers? Perhaps most importantly, what has led to this recent surge in resignations?


One plausible explanation for this exodus is the growing complexity of serving in municipal office. In my conversations with municipal leaders from coast to coast often highlight the evolving nature of our communities. With this evolution comes an array of multifaceted challenges, spanning from intricate infrastructure development projects to pressing environmental concerns.


These issues demand the dedication of full-time leaders. Yet, the majority of our municipal leaders are not compensated as such. While they may take on the responsibilities of full-time councillors or mayors, their remuneration often falls significantly below the threshold one would consider a full-time wage.


The looming spectre of partisanship in today's political landscape is a contributing factor. While municipal politics were once a haven of non-partisanship, they are not impervious to the divisive forces that have infiltrated higher levels of government. The rise of partisanship may discourage some individuals from pursuing or maintaining their roles in municipal office, as they strive to avoid the polarization that has infiltrated council chambers.


The upcoming by-elections present a unique opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the state of municipal politics. Voters have a chance to send a clear message about the type of leaders they desire and the direction in which they envision their communities heading.


This moment calls for a rejuvenation of - to quote FCM president Scott Pearce - the "Government of Proximity", inspiring dedicated individuals to step up and serve their communities. However, the question remains - will the next generation of municipal leaders answer the call?


A cursory look at the list of candidates on the Elections New Brunswick website reveals that of the 19 vacant council positions only a few races are being contested. Many seem poised for acclamation. This raises even more concerns about the diversity of voices and perspectives that will emerge from these by-elections, as well as the state of democracy in Canada if people don't step up and put their names on the ballot.


The outcomes of these elections will not only shape the future of these communities but also provide invaluable insights into the evolving landscape of municipal politics in New Brunswick. Will the vacancies be filled with fresh faces and new ideas, or will they expose deeper challenges within our local democracy?


The vitality of our municipalities rests upon engaged and committed leaders. It is a collective responsibility to ensure that municipal politics remain vibrant, inclusive, and responsive to the ever-evolving needs of our communities.


This exodus of municipal leaders should serve as a powerful reminder that democracy can only thrive when individuals actively participate in the process and when local leaders stand up and face the challenges of the ever-changing municipal landscape.




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