As Niagara Municipalities Face Possible Amalgamation ….

Brock University Policy Brief Explores Governance Options For Niagara Municipalities

The brief argues that past amalgamations have not saved costs or reduced taxes, but there are reasons other than cost savings why area municipalities might wish to merge.

News from Brock University in St. Catharines/Niagara

Posted March 28th, 2019 on Niagara At Large

How will Niagara’s municipal map look four years from now? If Premier Doug Ford has its way, it could look very different and the number of municipal councillors representing Niagara’s citizens could be much smaller.

To merge or not to merge? That is one of the many questions Niagara and eight other Ontario regions will be grappling with as the province studies how to make municipalities more efficient.

Two advisors appointed by the Ontario government are addressing nine questions related to how decisions are being made, and services being delivered, in two-tier systems. Residents have been asked to provide feedback by April 23, and the advisors’ report is expected to be submitted early this summer.

To help Niagara navigate the issues, Brock University’s Niagara Community Observatory (NCO) has released its policy brief, Under the Knife & Under the Gun: An Overview of Regional Government in Niagara.

How many municipal councillors does a region like Niagara need?

“The purpose of the brief is to provide factual information to inform the discussion on this important issue,” says David Siegel, Professor of Political Science and author of the policy brief.

Niagara’s 13 municipalities elect 126 councillors, a number that many have criticized as being too high. Although the brief doesn’t endorse a particular system or number of representatives, it warns “too many councillors frustrate meaningful discussion around the council table; too few councillors weaken citizen access to councillors.”

It also cautions against making councils too small, as that would reduce diversity of gender, race, ethnic background and other characteristics.

On the issue of service delivery, the brief says service duplication isn’t generally a problem in Niagara, as most key services such as police, social services, fire and recreation are clearly distributed between Niagara Region and area municipalities.

Areas that are shared between the two jurisdictions include economic development, planning, public transit and roads.

The policy brief wraps up with the ‘elephant in the room,’ amalgamation. The brief argues that past amalgamations have not saved costs or reduced taxes, but there are reasons other than cost savings why area municipalities might wish to merge.

“Ultimately, this policy brief and the discussions following from it are aimed at positioning the Niagara community to potentially influence the direction of governance reforms,” says NCO Director Charles Conteh.

 “We hope to provide a platform for separating facts from fiction in envisioning a governance reform that is tailored to the needs of the region,” he says.

Siegel and others from the NCO will be holding a workshop at Brock University April 16 to discuss the brief and possible ways forward for Niagara.

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One response to “As Niagara Municipalities Face Possible Amalgamation ….

  1. It seems that those being given free reign to comment on this expected governance reform are all solidly in the ‘One Niagara’ camp. Many, including the author of this report, are a full part of the ‘growing government’ community, very comfortably compensated by the taxpayers and voters of the 12 municipalities of Niagara and safely cushioned from the real world of a majority of those same taxpayers and voters.
    Why is there no such counter report offering the option of just dissolving Niagara Region and allowing each municipality to be allowed to offer their own solutions in the best interests of those who elect them!
    For the Regional ‘services’ mentioned in the report, the 12 Mayors and Councils could do no worse, seeking sensible and mutually beneficial agreements, than current and past Regional Councils.
    The real reason that ‘amalgamation’ has proved to be difficult in the past is because of the unwillingness of those who feed at the taxpayers trough to accept they are dispensable and can lose their jobs just the same as those in the private manufacturing sector that continue to suffer the effects of bad governance that led to factories shutting down. Government bureaucracy rarely, if ever, accepts efficiencies or cutting jobs, but rather find every opportunity both to increase their own numbers and to ensure any tax increase is first allocated to protect their own increasing salaries, benefits and pensions.
    The proposed Governance reform is supposedly to cut costs and reduce the number of politicians. With a Regional budget of around $300,000,000, and growing, dissolving Regional government would immediately do both.
    Each of the 12 Municipalities would immediately benefit by an almost 50% increase in their own budgets, and without the burden of the enormous costs of a growing, overweight and mainly inefficient regional bureaucracy there would be an immediate and huge financial relief to the 12 municipalities and all of Niagara’s taxpayers, giving them the opportunity to plan a new way of governance.
    After nearly 50 years, and particularly in light of the ongoing and dysfunctional governance chaos Niagara Region has experienced in recent years, there is a very strong case to show that the ‘experiment’ that was the Niagara Region has become a failure.
    To promote the idea any sort of ‘One Niagara’ as the only solution without any alternative ‘No Niagara’ being put forward negates the very public feelings expressed last October by a disgusted and disillusioned electorate who were clearly seeking a real alternative to the present Regional Government.


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