Prov­ince un­wit­tingly re­an­i­mates spec­tre of amal­ga­ma­tion in Water­loo Re­gion

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - FAISAL ALI

MU­NIC­I­PAL POL­I­TICS IS OFTEN thought of as a con­sid­er­ably qui­eter, more mun­dane, less bom­bas­tic level of govern­ment than its pro­vin­cial and fed­eral coun­ter­parts. But the re­newed push from Queen’s Park to slash the size of Toronto city coun­cil in half – to 25 seats from 47 – dur­ing an on­go­ing elec­tion has threat­ened to re­open the old de­bates of amal­ga­ma­tion here in the town­ships.

De­fend­ing the move, On­tario Pre­mier Doug Ford ar­gued that re­duc­ing the num­ber of politi­cians in the city would save tax­pay­ers mil­lions of dol­lars, as well as cut down on un­nec­es­sary bu­reau­cracy. The flip­side of this is that for smaller mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties like Wool­wich and Welles­ley, smaller coun­cil sizes sug­gests less rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the re­gional level of govern­ment.

Whether Water­loo Re- gion and its coun­cils will find it­self on the cut­ting block is far from cer­tain.

“It’s some­thing cer­tainly we’ve talked about and thought about,” said Wool­wich Mayor Sandy Shantz, who sits on both the town­ship and re­gional coun­cils. “I mean, you can’t re­ally look at what hap­pened in Toronto and not won­der.”

In Canada, prov­inces have the prin­ci­pal au­thor­ity to de­cide how mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments op­er­ate. They can set such things as the bound­aries of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, the num­ber of politi­cians rep­re­sent­ing the lo­cal­ity, the size of their wards, and the pow­ers and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties they wield.

“My num­ber-one con­cern in the long term would be a sort of di­luted au­thor­ity when it comes to some of the plan­ning is­sues that we’re deal­ing with,” said Welles­ley Mayor Joe Nowak who, like Shantz, oc­cu­pies a seat at the re­gional coun­cil ta­ble as well as at town­ship coun­cil.

Nowak notes that if the prov­ince turned Water­loo Re­gion into a sin­gle-tier sys­tem of govern­ment, elim­i­nat­ing lo­cal coun­cils in favour of a sin­gle, re­gion-wide au­thor­ity, Welles­ley res­i­dents would have a smaller say in de­cid­ing the course of their town­ship.

“So my con­cern would be that we can pro­tect the lands that we have – the agri­cul­tural lands that we have right now,” said Nowak. “I think we have to make sure that we can pro­tect that at all costs. And if we have di­luted au­thor­ity, which I think we would have in a one tier sys­tem, then that would make it a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to pro­tect what I think the peo­ple of this town­ship ap­pre­ci­ate most.”

To date, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment has not di­rectly in­di­cated that they in­tend to place Water­loo Re­gion or its lower mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties on the cut­ting block. How­ever, the govern­ment has said it in­tends to “re­view” On­tario’s re­gional gov­ern­ments for im­prove­ments.

“What we are go­ing to do ... is take a long look at re­gional govern­ment across the prov­ince – where things have worked and where things haven’t – to fig­ure out what we can do bet­ter,” said Steve Clark, Min­is­ter of Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and Hous­ing, in July.

Whether that means Water­loo Re­gion may face a sim­i­lar rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion to that in Toronto was a pos­si­bil­ity, but Shantz added that the term re­view shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily set off alarm bells for lo­cal res­i­dents.

“Our two-tier sys­tem here is work­ing rea­son­ably well. Can it be tweaked? Oh, prob­a­bly. Should it be re­viewed? Prob­a­bly; it’s al­ways good to look at these things. So I don’t have a prob­lem with a re­view as long as it’s done col­lab­o­ra­tively, and not im­posed,” she said.

As of this week, the pro­posal to re­duce Toronto city coun­cil has yet to be­come law, af­ter the govern­ment’s first at­tempt was deemed un­con­sti­tu­tional by a Su­pe­rior Court judge. The PC party re­sponded by in­vok­ing the rarely used “not­with­stand­ing” clause of the Con­sti­tu­tion, al­low­ing them to by­pass the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms, as well as any checks from the ju­di­ciary.

The prov­ince has pro­posed to in­crease the size of Toronto’s new wards to match pro­vin­cial and fed­eral rid­ings, which each con­tain 100,000 peo­ple. The court ruled that the pro­posal would rob Toron­to­ni­ans of their right to ef­fec­tive po­lit­i­cal rep-

re­sen­ta­tion, point­ing to a lengthy study by the city that found one coun­cil­lor could not ef­fec­tively rep­re­sent a 100,000-con­stituent rid­ing.

Wool­wich, by com­par­i­son, with a pop­u­la­tion of 25,000, has six coun­cil­lors, while Welles­ley has five coun­cil­lors rep­re­sent­ing a pop­u­la­tion of 11,000 peo­ple.

Coun­cil­lors, the judge rea­soned, needed time to meet with con­stitu- ents and ad­dress their con­cerns. A sin­gle city coun­cil­lor could not do that ef­fec­tively for an en­tire pro­vin­cial rid­ing of 100,000 peo­ple, for in­stance.

At­tempts to con­tact Con­ser­va­tive MPP Mike Har­ris, who rep­re­sents the lo­cal Kitch­ener-Con­estoga rid­ing of 114,000 con­stituents, were un­suc­cess­ful. Har­ris was re­port­edly work­ing through a back­log of meet­ings at the leg­is­la­ture and, tied up since last week, could not pro­vide com­ment on the is­sue.

How­ever, on Har­ris’ so­cial me­dia, the MPP re­pub­lished a post ap­prov­ing the Ford’s govern­ment for “stand­ing up for tax­pay­ers and more ef­fi­cient lo­cal govern­ment ... in a rare and his­toric mid­night sit­ting.”

The pre­mier has promised a free vote on the leg­is­la­ture, mean­ing PC MPPs will be able to vote as they wish, with­out the usual dis­ci­pline im­posed by the party whip.

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