Getting serious about government reform
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | Jan. 24, 2019|
It appears this pesky question about amalgamation, or reform, in Haliburton County simply won’t go away.
When the Doug Ford government announced last week that it is reviewing 82 municipalities in Ontario, the debate that’s not gone away for the last few years, resurfaced.
I say debate since not everyone is convinced here that amalgamation is the way to go. Those in the nay camp point to other jurisdictions that have seen costs rise, not lower. They are also worried the level of service will drop off, particularly in the smaller jurisdictions of Highlands East and Algonquin Highlands.
Others argue there must be a better way. For example, in whose universe is it a good thing that four planners are working on four bylaws around short-term accommodation in this region?
Looking at the map of the regions under the Ford microscope, we find Muskoka, Simcoe, York, Durham, Peel, Halton, Waterloo, Oxford and Niagara. With the exception of the Oxford/Muskoka counties, we’re talking basically the 905 donut. Why is the province focussing on these areas? Some argue there’s been a push from within the Peel Region by Mississauga to get out of the region and now’s the time since lower-tier municipalities there want change, too.
David O’Brien, who we interview on page 5, was the special advisor when Hamilton was reviewed under the Mike Harris government.
As O’Brien notes, regions were originally put in place to help the smaller municipalities share in the benefits of big capital works like sewer and water and regional roads. O’Brien says these towns are all grown up now and want to operate as stand-alone cities in their own right.
The question becomes is regional government now superfluous?
When it comes to the counties, O’Brien thinks municipalities will be amalgamated into one and county governments eliminated.
The first question. Will Ford next gun for municipalities such as ours? Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt says MPP Laurie Scott has told her and others on numerous occasions that the province isn’t forcing amalgamations and there’s no plan to review any other areas of the province. However, she concedes we’re all a bit skeptical these days.
What everyone does agree on is that there has to be local investigations into reform.
O’Brien argues now is the time for a made-in-Haliburton solution versus something thrust upon us.
First of all, we have to find out what taxpayers want. The County needs to figure out how to do public consultation about reform. Once they know what people want, they can begin to drill down on how that might look locally. How do we achieve efficiency? We’re hearing questions such as why can’t all county landfills be managed by one entity. Why can’t there be consistent bylaws, forms and fees?
As Moffatt says, those ideas are all worth looking into and part of that is figuring out the gains and losses attached to those decisions. That’s where the struggle will be, because people will want different things.
The County would do well to have a chat with O’Brien about a way forward. Clearly, this is destined to be a long and onerous process. It is something that should be commenced in 2019. Otherwise, we’ll all be a bit nervous that the next round of reviews could creep further east and north.
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.