Before anyone quibbles with the title of this blog, I’m aware that I omitted half of the province, and for that matter, I omitted three other provinces entirely. I think the title I chose is a little punchier than ‘Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI Aren’t So Different’. Call it author’s license.
If you have been following this series of blogs through 2023, you may recall that Strategic Steps opened an office in Atlantic Canada this year, headed up by our inimitable VP, Craig Pollett. It turns out that Craig is known by almost everyone in the region – or at least it seems that way.
As a company, we decided we wanted to launch our Atlantic operation by attending a series of conventions throughout the region in the fall of this year. I had the opportunity to spend a week in Nova Scotia, and then another in Newfoundland and Labrador, meeting people whose lives are deeply involved in local government. While there are certainly significant differences between Atlantic Canada, the Prairies, and the West Coast, I found it both comforting and alarming that the issues for local governments are remarkably similar.
I’d thought there would be more differences because the relevant legislation is different in every province, and the cultures are different in every province. That part is true, but the impact is less than I thought it would be, both for administrators and governors.
Major issues like climate change, homelessness, downloading, abuse, and role clarity exist in every province I’ve visited, and Atlantic Canada is no different.
Creative local governments are running into the same systemic problems all over the country, and there is learning to be done from each other, learning that doesn’t often seem to happen at the most local of levels. While provincial and territorial associations of elected officials and administrators are tackling the topics head-on, county, village, and town officials are reliant on those associations while they concentrate on the most local issues of the day – property tax rates, water main breaks, demand for services – the usual topics that consume councillors.
In speaking with dozens, perhaps hundreds of involved people in both NS and NL, I wondered how well creative solutions to problems could be addressed at a regional, provincial, or even national level. There is so much work to do that local people understandably focus first on local topics. Whenever I bring up the concept of working with regional neighbours, that idea has sometimes been thought of but not actioned. There’s also parochialism at play in some places. The differences between neighbours are so small, but the animosity is disproportionately large.
I encourage councils to take a step back and get to know their neighbours as people with families, hobbies, and jobs outside of being a council member. I suggest elected officials get to know each other socially well before an issue of disagreement appears on the agenda.
Something that is different about the Atlantic region, and most of the rest of Canada for that matter, is that there are rarely requirements for new councils to attend training of some sort. In Alberta, a comprehensive orientation is mandatory for all members of council soon after an election.
I don’t really understand how a community member who is on council by getting more votes than someone else automatically becomes a good governor. Chances are they don’t really understand their role or the role of local government, for that matter.
Some provinces require some sort of basic training or onboarding, but I don’t think that training is thorough or long enough to be effective. Good training that is expertly delivered could well head off some of the issues that lack of role clarity and personality conflicts bring about.
All in all, though, my experience in the Atlantic region showed me how similar the West Coast is to the East Coast and the North Coast when it comes to the role and effectiveness of local governments and the people who make them function well.
What are your thoughts on the nature of council orientations and whether they should be mandatory?
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org