Myles Russell on City-Province relations

Happy City: The province sets the rules on what powers cities and other communities have. St John’s is governed by the St John’s Act which is 34 years old. Towns and municipalities recently got their own revised laws and new legislation for cities, including the City of St. John’s, is still in development.  

This is an opportunity for you as a Councillor to have a say in how responsibilities and powers are shared between the City of St. John’s and the provincial government. What powers and responsibilities would you like the City to gain or relinquish as part of this process? How might the City be better able to address the needs of residents as a result of this change?

Myles Russell:

St. John’s needs the ultimate power to plan all transportation in the northeast Avalon. St. Johns should be managing most of the water and sanitary services across the  region. St. John’s should be taking the lead on regionally planned development  regulations. The city should reign in control of Pippy Park as well, where most of the  provincial government facilities in Ward 4 exist. Finally, for this discussion, St. John’s should gain more autonomy in the ability to levy taxes. 

Let’s start with taxes. Despite the St. Johns act, we are incapable of fine-tuning taxation with anything other than assessment on land/built structures. St. John’s needs more  power to be able to prevent land development squatting and leaving buildings derelict and empty. The best way for the city to increase revenue while not increasing  expenditures is to approve / permit higher density infill development on existing roads  that are serviced. This would immensely increase value per area and linear  infrastructure. I would not be in favor of ever languishing control to the provincial  government because party politics will always muddy the water on efficiency. 

Next let’s talk transportation. The City and Provincial government have been failing  residents in providing any alternative to mobility freedom without purchasing a car. That  keeps our seniors and lower income folks stuck in vehicle poverty, now that we know  car ownership is well more than $10,000/year/car. On a fixed or low income, that is  debilitating. 

However, transportation management cannot work if it is only done from 1 municipality. Looking at Statistics Canada data shows that the suburban satellite communities commute into St. John’s, yet most people inside St. John’s do not leave as most of the  economic opportunity and education opportunity falls inside not only the city St. John’s,  and specifically Ward 4 bears a larger brunt of that. 

Ward 4 contains 60% of the most dangerous intersections for traffic and pedestrians  alike, and that is exclusively due to the immense number of people driving to the Avalon  mall, the institutes, memorial university, confederation building, and the second largest  industrial park in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Transportation management involves assessing mobility through the lens of public  transportation, active transportation, walking, micro mobility machines, and class 5 

vehicles. St. Johns could reassess its transportation strategy and leave the other  municipalities out, however those municipalities would suffer immensely without proper cross municipality planning. St. John’s must revise it’s transportation management  strategy. The Provincial government seems incapable of tackling this issue. 

Now onto public works. St. Johns is already managing sanitary sewer, domestic water,  and fire emergency response services to 3 adjacent municipalities. These agreements  must be assessed to ensure that they are fair for all residents. Mount Pearl, Portugal  Cove Saint Phillips, and Paradise do not have adequate water generation rates or the  supporting infrastructure to treat water, nor do they have the capacity to treat effluent in  any manner. I believe this agreement should be analyzed but should not be done from  the provincial government side as again, the provincial government cares more about  party politics and efficiency. I’m honestly shocked that they finally approved a high  school for the town of paradise. 

City Council is lacking ambition for reforming our development regulations adequately in  a manner to increase revenue without increasing services, while addressing the clear evidence-based housing crisis residents are in. Saint Johns currently has the power 

Next let’s delve into urban development. This is something that other provinces have  taking the lead on for specific aspects, such as British Columbia’s transit-oriented development legislation, or Ontario’s gentle density in single detached suburban  housing legislation. I do not think the government of Newfoundland and Labrador could  properly address development regulations in the same way that British Columbia or  Ontario has. It is a matter of expertise and application. 

Increasing density can often turn heads and a provincial government is a good  scapegoat for better policy planning. Most of the urban population of Newfoundland and  Labrador live inside St. John’s, so why give the power away when it’s not relevant to  much of the rest of the province. St. John’s can simply make scaling rules so that  residents need not worry a high-rise building will go next to their single detached home. I’ll talk more about this in the housing segment. 

The Pippy Park Commission is predominantly occupied by provincial government  infrastructure, a golf course, and forest. Its development is not under the control of city  of St. Johns and prime development areas for walkable high density are locked out of  the cities control right where we need it. That must change. Pippy Park has some  beautiful trails, and I wouldn’t take them away, but when confederation building has a  three hectare parking lot and clearing for overflow parking, that could fit an entire  Churchill square, we have ourselves a problem. 

The final section I want to talk about is that the immense amount of provincial  government institutes that St. John’s hosts, but makes little revenue from, compared to  market rates. Hosting these services has an economic benefit, however the sheer  amount that is in Ward 4 is truly impressive and that comes with a burden that St.  John’s Taxpayers must bear. This is something a new St. John’s act should assess


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