Fifty years ago, on Nov. 4, 1963, a report was tabled in the provincial legislature that would fundamentally change New Brunswick and set it on a course that continues to evolve today.
The report of the Royal Commission on Finance and Municipal Taxation, chaired by Edward Byrne, resulted in a radical restructuring of the local and provincial governments in New Brunswick.
The University of New Brunswick’s Urban and Community Studies Institute marked the 50th anniversary of the Byrne Commission report with a one-day symposium in Fredericton yesterday, Chris Morris, C3.
Marquis said that today, New Brunswick seems caught in the grip of political inertia with politicians wary of making major change. But in the 1960s, when the late Louis Robichaud was premier, there was a much greater willingness to plunge ahead with the radical reforms the province needed.
Marquis said that in the early 1960s, when Robichaud first came to power in New Brunswick, the young premier was struck by the inequities and the poverty that existed under the old county government system.
When the Byrne Commission was established in 1962, three New Brunswick counties hovered on the brink of bankruptcy. Responsibility for social services, education, health care and legal services was shared between the county, city and town authorities with little organization.
Marquis said the Byrne Commission proposed a shift toward provincial authority over education, justice, public health and welfare. It also provided for equalization grants to municipalities that could not afford to provide a standard level of service.
The Byrne recommendations led to the sweeping reforms of Robichaud’s program of equal opportunity that were designed to even out living standards across the province, and centralize such services as health and education under the provincial government.
‘We can’t sit around waiting for a God-given miracle to end the inequalities which are contributing to the waste of our most treasured possession – our people,’ Robichaud said at the time.