FRESH ELEC­TION, STALE AMAL­GA­MA­TION TALK

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

THE VOTES WERE BARELY counted when there was talk – again – of amal­ga­ma­tion. That the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion hap­pened dur­ing Hal­loween sea­son ap­pears to be no co­in­ci­dence – amal­ga­ma­tion is the zom­bie that re­fuses to die. The walk­ing dead, in­deed.

Just like zom­bies, how­ever, the ben­e­fits pro­po­nents tout – cost sav­ings and ef­fi­cien­cies – are also to­tally fic­tional.

Amal­ga­ma­tion has been a non-starter for years. Whether pro­tect­ing their turfs or fight­ing off the loss of in­de­pen­dence, crit­ics have been right to dis­miss a con­cept whereby the seven ex­ist­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Water­loo Re­gion would be wiped out in favour of one.

The case for con­sol­i­dat­ing seven mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments into one über-gov­ern­ment at the re­gion is as weak to­day as it was dur­ing the height of the Har­ris Tories’ ill-fated amal­ga­ma­tion frenzy. Re­mov­ing di­rect lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for a gam­ble on re­duced costs hasn’t paid off, and never will. More­over, peo­ple have ties to their com­mu­ni­ties, and like to have di­rect ac­cess to their mu­nic­i­pal politi­cians, who have the largest im­pact on their day-to-day lives.

While op­ti­miz­ing some ser­vices may be ad­van­ta­geous – over the years, we’ve seen that hap­pen with po­lice ser­vices and, more re­cently, tran­sit – but that’s a far cry from dis­cussing sin­gle-tier gov­ern­ment. Even talks to re­gion­al­ize fire pro­tec­tion or wa­ter and sewer ser­vices seem doomed to eter­nal bick­er­ing.

In the town­ships, the loss of di­rect say over plan­ning and other is­sues is too big a price to pay. An amal­ga­mated re­gion would see pre­cious lit­tle ru­ral rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the ta­ble. As it now stands, Wool­wich and Welles­ley each have just one place on re­gional coun­cil, which doesn’t amount to much. But each re­mains au­ton­o­mous for the most part, able to con­trol its fu­ture at the lo­cal coun­cil level – in the ab­sence of that struc­ture, the pri­or­i­ties of the cities could quickly over­whelm each of the four ru­ral town­ships.

The small­est mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties must re­tain the right to say “no” when it comes to in­cur­sions from the city. The fate of the de­vel­op­ment lands in Bres­lau, for in­stance, is in much bet­ter hands at Wool­wich coun­cil than it would be if the cities were call­ing the shots – just look at the poor de­vel­op­ment legacy vis­ited on the res­i­dents of Kitch­ener and Water­loo.

Stud­ies of On­tario mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties amal­ga­mated when that was in vogue with the Har­ris gov­ern­ment show cost-sav­ings to be non-ex­is­tent. There may be ben­e­fits, but they’re not fi­nan­cial. And years af­ter­wards, few peo­ple are do­ing cart­wheels over the moves.

Busi­ness groups are of­ten the ones push­ing for amal­ga­ma­tions, typ­i­cally em­pha­siz­ing the sav­ings mantra. De­pend­ing on the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, they’re joined by peo­ple who like the idea of send­ing politi­cians pack­ing, the ap­peal of fewer coun­cil­lors. Again, nice idea in the­ory, but the sav­ings are minis­cule – one-half of one per cent of the to­tal bud­get goes to coun­cil ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While there can be a bit of ini­tial cost sav­ings by cast­ing off du­pli­cate se­nior staff mem­bers, it doesn’t take long be­fore most of the money is eaten up by the mid­dle man­agers who are added to help ad­min­is­ter a larger pop­u­la­tion and the ser­vices of­fered to them.

That idea makes no sense for any of the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, least of all the town­ships. But politi­cians are ca­pa­ble of act­ing con­trary to the pub­lic in­ter­est. When it comes to the idea of amal­ga­ma­tion, we are liv­ing in the land of the un­dead.

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