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Provincial departments shakeup ‘very big concern’ for Newfoundland and Labrador municipalities

St. John’s Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary. -TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO
St. John’s Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary. -TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

Towns now have to deal with three departments instead of one

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Recent changes to provincial government departments have the City of St. John’s worried about challenges it might create in addressing municipal issues.

Prior to the departmental changes that came when Premier Andrew Furey took office, towns across the province dealt with one provincial department — the former Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment.

With the shuffle on Sept. 10, municipalities now have to deal with three different provincial departments: Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities; Transportation and Infrastructure, which is now responsible for municipal infrastructure; and Justice and Public Safety, which is now responsible for fire and emergency services.

“Municipalities are going to have to deal with three different departments in order to get anything substantial done,” St. John’s Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary said during Monday’s council meeting.

O’Leary is also a board member with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) — an organization which represents 275 incorporated communities across the province — and she said the change is “a very big concern” for MNL.

Mayor Danny Breen said municipalities are key in the province.

“And not having one department, and just one minister and one deputy minister to go to I don’t think is the right move, but I’m certainly willing to listen to the rationale for it, and to see how we can work together to make this work.”

MNL president Sheila Fitzgerald said co-ordination between the three ministers will be “incredibly important.”

She said MNL wasn’t consulted prior to the change in departments about how it would affect municipalities.

“We didn’t find out that there were going to be those changes until after it was announced,” she said.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a bump until (municipalities) figure out who is the right person to contact for what.”

However, Fitzgerald said she sees the change as a positive opportunity because MNL used to do a lot of advocacy to ensure departments other than just the former Municipal Affairs and Environment were aware of issues faced by communities across the province. Now, she said, they’ll have relationships with three different departments who will get to know about their concerns.

“Our working relationship with government has always been very positive, and they’re open to working with us and coming up with communication tools so that we’re supporting the members,” she said.

Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities Minister Derek Bennett told The Telegram some of the reconfiguration of departments was done to match up with the organization of the federal government.

He said municipal issues won’t need to be restarted with a new department, and no services will be discontinued.

“We’ll keep our lines of communication open,” he said.

“We’ve always had a great working relationship with MNL and municipalities. Over the next couple of weeks when the House is not in session, I’ll be going and meeting with other municipalities to reiterate the services within our government, and to make sure the lines of communication and working relationship continues.”

With files from David Maher

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