Provincial policy planning for municipal government restructuring in non-metropolitan areas, the contemporary cases of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick

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Pike, Amy.
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Throughout Canada, the provincial governments are examining consolidation as a method of supporting the economic well-being of small municipalities. In some cases, the provinces are instituting policies that influence these local governments to amalgamate or consolidate with neighbouring municipalities. In the case of Ontario and Alberta, the governments are not only enabling and encouraging this process through new municipal legislation, but they are giving the small municipalities little choice but to consolidate because of radical cuts to transfer payments. In New Brunswick, the focus has been primarily on the municipalities surrounding larger metropolitan areas, but there is still a clear Province-led policy toward consolidation. Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the last of the five provinces studied in this paper, have experienced an opposite trend. These prairie provinces, with high levels of fragmentation, are seeing transfer payments maintained and even raised in what appears to be an effort by the provincial governments to support the status quo. Equally significant is the process of decentralization occurring in some provinces. In Alberta and Ontario this is particularly evident where the provincial governments are empowering municipalities to establish new revenue-generating capacities, and to essentially fend for themselves more and more in the face of transfer payment reductions. When the portion of grants that were unconditional increased, autonomy did not simply increase. Autonomy, and hence, decentralization, increases when revenue generating capacity is permitted, or when provincial income and the revenue from industrial tax bases are redistributed. This is primarily where Alberta and Ontario have begun to truly distinguish themselves from the other provinces studied. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the opposite is occurring. Municipalities in these provinces are being gently nudged to find better ways of saving money, but few new powers are being downloaded to local governments to enable them to generate money. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)