Will Cam­bridge de­cide to ditch Water­loo Re­gion?

Coun. Ni­cholas Ermeta has raised the is­sue of se­ces­sion

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - JEFF HICKS Water­loo Re­gion Record jhicks@therecord.com Twit­ter: @Hick­sJD

CAM­BRIDGE — Se­ces­sion dreams, like card­board can­di­date signs, tend to float above the city’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape come mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion time.

Life with­out a big and al­legedly in­ef­fi­cient Re­gion of Water­loo call­ing so many shots in Cam­bridge sounds idyl­lic to some.

“I’m pretty con­fi­dent the city could op­er­ate well as a stand­alone city,” said in­cum­bent Coun. Ni­cholas Ermeta, who is run­ning again in Ward 8 and pub­licly float­ing the no­tion of se­ces­sion as the Oct. 22 elec­tion nears.

“Where the is­sue lies is get­ting there. Once you’re part of re­gional gov­ern­ment, it’s very hard to sep­a­rate.”

The costs as­so­ci­ated with Cam­bridge go­ing it alone and pick­ing up the full tab for re­gional ser­vices — like po­lice, am­bu­lances, garbage, tran­sit, ma­jor roads, so­cial ser­vices, wa­ter supply and sewage treat­ment — might be too stag­ger­ing to con­tem­plate.

So Ermeta is cau­tious about the stand­alone op­tion. He isn’t ready to cham­pion it. But sin­gletier works for cities like Bar­rie, Guelph, Strat­ford and Kingston, so why not Cam­bridge, he ar­gues.

“I’m not rul­ing it out,” he said. “A stand­alone city is not nec­es­sar­ily an is­land.”

That’s be­cause there is an­other op­tion, he says: the ser­vice board model. Get rid of the re­gion — which keeps snub­bing the city’s wishes by pen­cilling in a po­ten­tial su­per­vised in­jec­tion site in the Galt core — and its top-down de­ci­sion-mak­ing model, Ermeta says. Bring in a bot­tom-up model. Let the cities and town­ships get to­gether in a limited-power as­so­ci­a­tion for items like po­lice, tran­sit and wa­ter ser­vices.

“I think it’s a good idea to have a dis­cus­sion,” says Mayor Doug Craig, who fig­ures sim­ply elim­i­nat­ing the re­gion and mak­ing Cam­bridge a stand­alone city would be too ex­pen­sive.

Kathryn McGarry, one of four may­oral chal­lengers to Craig, would want city res­i­dents to have a say on any se­ces­sion pos­si­bil­i­ties. “On a ques­tion like this, the people of our com­mu­nity should have a direct say on whether Cam­bridge would or would not re­main part of the re­gion,” she said in an email to The Record.

“My con­cern is that the Cam­bridge tax­pay­ers would be re­spon­si­ble for the cost of all of our ser­vices. The Ser­vice Board Model would have to be ex­am­ined care­fully to make sure this would not in­crease costs for the av­er­age tax­payer.”

In 1978, a non-bind­ing plebiscite asked Cam­bridge vot­ers if they wanted to ditch the re­gion. They voted five-to-one in favour of split­ting.

In an un­suc­cess­ful run for mayor in 1994, for­mer city coun­cil­lor Rick Cowsill ar­gued one level of lo­cal gov­ern­ment must dis­ap­pear head­ing into the 21st cen­tury. Yet, as many in Cam­bridge bris­tle at pay­ing for an ini­tial LRT phase that will only serve Kitch­ener and Water­loo, the re­gion re­mains.

But Ermeta says big changes could be com­ing to the mu­nic­i­pal land­scape no mat­ter what people think, es­pe­cially with Premier Doug Ford al­ready pulling out the notwith­stand­ing clause to es­sen­tially cut Toronto city coun­cil’s num­bers in half.

“It’s not just a Cam­bridge-Water­loo Re­gion is­sue,” he says. “It’s ba­si­cally go­ing to be hap­pen­ing all across the prov­ince ... A num­ber of other com­mu­ni­ties across the 905 want a full sep­a­ra­tion, want to be 100 per cent stand­alone.”

Ermeta says he has Ford’s ear on the Cam­bridge sit­u­a­tion. He says Ford in­vited him to Ford’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in June and he was able to talk briefly with the premier on Cam­bridge is­sues.

“The prov­ince, they want to find more ef­fi­cien­cies in lo­cal gov­ern­ments,” Ermeta says. “With the re­gion, there is du­pli­ca­tion. By giv­ing our city a greater say and re­duc­ing the level of the re­gion, I do be­lieve it could fit into the plan to stream­line gov­ern­ment more and cre­ate more ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment.”

Ermeta stresses that talk about se­ces­sion is in the very early stages. He wants to talk with the com­mu­nity and re­gional of­fi­cials. He won’t be go­ing to the prov­ince and sub­mit­ting a plan be­hind their back, he says.

Ken Seil­ing, who is re­tir­ing after 33 years as re­gional chair, sees any se­ces­sion talk in Cam­bridge as prob­lem­atic.

“First of all, Cam­bridge doesn’t have the abil­ity to do it on its own,” he says. “If, in fact, any­body even agreed to a sep­a­rate model, you can’t just pick and choose the ser­vices you want. And, in fact, Cam­bridge would pay the full cost of all ser­vices that they got.”

And a visit by a pro­vin­cial com­mis­sioner to a mu­nic­i­pal­ity look­ing for the re­struc­tur­ing can be a gam­ble. As 2000 ar­rived, reform led to forced merg­ers for Sud­bury, Ot­tawa and Hamil­ton.

“Be care­ful what you wish for,” Seil­ing says. “Be­cause you may get the ex­act op­po­site of what you think you’re go­ing to get.”

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