For Now at Least, the Status Quo in Niagara – 13 Municipal Councils (including regional) and more than 120 Municipal Councillors – Will Remain
“Our government … conducted a review of Ontario’s eight regional governments (including Niagara’s) … After careful consideration of the feedback we heard through the course of the review, our government stands firm in its commitment to partnering with municipalities without pursuing a top-down approach. We will provide municipalities with the resources to support local decision-making.” – Steve Clark, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted October 25th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
Okay, so what was all that hooting, hollering and hand-ringing ll about?
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Conservatives began their term in power last year by taking a meat axe to Toronto’s city council – cutting the number of elected councillors serving one of North America’s largest cities almost in half – then went on to make all kinds of noise about doing something similar in other regions of the province.
“Big government is bad, in my opinion,” he told one of Niagara’s mainstream newspapers earlier this year. What’s Niagara and Muskoka? They have 122 or 133 elected officials? … That’s absolutely ridiculous.”
So a provincial governance review was put in motion and Ford and company gave municipalities like Niagara and other regions, along with any other parties that were interested, time to make their case for how many municipal politicians should represent them, and what other reforms in the way they are governed should be made.
The general understanding was that at the end of the review, Ford would order changes that, in the case of Niagara, would quite likely see the number of local municipalities (there are currently 12) drastically reduced, and might even see a downsized regional council or no regional council at all.
Then this October 25th, while many municipal council watchers were holding our breath, we get just about as close as you can come to a nothing burger for reasons that, no doubt, have many scratching their heads.
Just when at least some of us, including this journalist and government watcher, were speculating that Ford might just be waiting until the October 21st federal election was over (so as not to hurt his federal Conservative pal Andrew Scheer) to drop a bomb like he is going to slash the number of municipal councillors in Niagara by a third or by half, no such order is on the way, according to a news released issued this October 25th.
Instead, the Ford government will “work in partnership with municipalities” while they make their own governmentance decision, and will even sprinkle out a total of $143 million to Ontario’s 444 municipalities “to help them lower costs and improve services” – an amount that barely put a dent in the additional costs Niagara and other municipalities now face as a result of all the Ford government’s previous cuts and downloading of more services on them.
No doubt, many will be disappointed over this news.
There have been those in Niagara who have been calling for fewer local councils and the complete abolition of regional council for one reason or another, going back to the creation of regional government by the former provincial Conservative government of Bill Davis some five decades ago.
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, a body representing the largest number of large and small businesses in the region, has been calling for some trimming in municipal government here for a number of years, and the Chamber’s CEO, Mishka , had this to say, at least in party, about the news –
“This may be the end of the Government of Ontario’s plan to reform Niagara, but it does not have to mean that we close the book on useful reform. The process has shown that there is an appetite and a need for meaningful change and greater efficiency in Niagara, and we hope that local governments will pursue that.”
Aside from some ideas, well worth the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce has, for reforming municipal government and services, there are also many people out there who simply say that they want to see far fewer municipal politicians in the region.
The reasons for that point view often come down to; a) they don’t like politicians, and b) having few of them will save taxpayers money.
This veteran journalist is all for exploring ways of making our government services work cost less and work better, but culling the number of politicians is not part of the mix in my view.
First of all, the cost savings are so small when you look at a municipality’s overall budget, you are better off spending your time and energy looking for savings elsewhere.
Just as an example, the total annual cost of compensation for elected politicians at the regional government level alone is about $1.5 million – a fraction of one per cent of an annual budget that now totals more than $1 billion. We would likely save more money amalgamating the current patchwork of bus transit services across the region. And we would certainly save more money by doing a better job curbing low-density urban sprawl.
Secondly, fewer elected politicians means less democracy. These are the people we choose to sit on municipal councils to represent us, and if we don’t like like ones that are there, next time elect someone else or think about running yourself. And don’t be one of the more than half of eligable voters in the community that don’t even both going to the polls in most municipal elections.
If you don’t get involved in municipal elections or in following and responding to decisions councillors make while in office, and they turn around and and make decisions you don’t like, you really do have no one to blame but yourself.
Having Doug Ford take a hatchet to our municipal councils is not going to make our communities better.
That’s may view. Feel free to share your views below.
But firs, here is the News Release issued on this matter from the Ford government –
Ontario Helping Make Municipalities Stronger
Dedicated funds will drive efficiencies and strengthen local service delivery
October 25, 2019
TORONTO ― Ontario is providing up to $143 million to municipalities to help them lower costs and improve services for local residents over the long term. Funding will be available to all 444 municipalities so they can find smarter, more efficient ways to operate and focus spending on vital programs and services for Ontarians.
Municipalities deliver a wide range of services that people rely on every day, like transit, water and wastewater, and parks and recreation.
“Municipalities are the level of government closest to the people, but every community is different – one size doesn’t fit all,” said Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “This investment in communities will support municipal transformation efforts to make sure they are delivering efficient, effective and modern services that best meet the unique needs of their residents.”
Our government is working in partnership with municipalities to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are respected. Earlier this year, the government conducted a review of Ontario’s eight regional governments and Simcoe County. Over 8,500 submissions were received and the Special Advisors, Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling, attended nine in-person sessions and listened to ideas from individuals and organizations on how to improve their local governments.
Throughout this extensive review, the government heard that local communities should decide what is best for them in terms of governance, decision-making and service delivery. After careful consideration of the feedback we heard through the course of the review, our government stands firm in its commitment to partnering with municipalities without pursuing a top-down approach. We will provide municipalities with the resources to support local decision-making.
“We are committed to helping and empowering municipalities to become more efficient and effective, so they can make every dollar count,” said Clark. “This investment supports the province’s commitment to reduce the cost of government, while maintaining quality services the people of Ontario expect from all levels of government.”
- Our government is extending two application-based funding streams: one for small and rural municipalities, and one for large urban governments.
- The 2020 Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund will have the same structure as this year and provide a total of $500 million to 389 municipalities across the province.
- Ontario will also launch a consultation with municipalities about whether to align the municipal and provincial fiscal year.
- Our government is proposing to eliminate duplication by combining the provincial and municipal voters lists, giving Elections Ontario the responsibility of managing the updated list and taking the burden off of municipalities.
Now here is a Media Release on this News from the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) –
GNCC Still Optimistic for Future of Niagara Governance
Niagara, Ontario, October 25, 2019 – Today, the Government of Ontario announced that the result of its study of governance reform in regions across Ontario, including Niagara, was to accept the status quo.
To many who were looking for changes in the municipal government structure, this will come as a disappointment.
However, the GNCC does not take it to mean that the door has been closed on a made-in-Niagara solution to increase governmental efficiency or reduce overlapping services and jurisdictions.
The process of study and consultation confirmed that inefficiencies persist in Niagara’s present structure, and we feel that local governments in the region should take this as an opportunity to pursue solutions to them.
The Government of Ontario also announced that $143 million would be made available to municipal governments across Ontario to lower costs and deliver better services.
Niagara could tackle some of our inefficiencies with our share of these funds, such as multiple and overlapping bus networks, duplicate planning and economic development departments at two levels of government, or inefficient schedules and responsibilities for road maintenance.
We urge local governments across Niagara to assemble a compelling bid for our share of these funds and use them to tackle some of Niagara’s more pressing governance concerns.
Many organizations across Niagara put considerable research into this issue, and we hope that local governments will tap those organizations as resources which can help them solve problems in the region.
Local governments should take notice and work to solve the many issues with the present structure that were raised during and before the review process.
Quotes: “This may be the end of the Government of Ontario’s plan to reform Niagara, but it does not have to mean that we close the book on useful reform. The process has shown that there is an appetite and a need for meaningful change and greater efficiency in Niagara, and we hope that local governments will pursue that.”– Mishka Balsom, President & CEO, GNCC
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce is the largest business organization in Niagara and the second-largest Chamber of Commerce in Ontario, with 1,500 members representing 50,000 employees.
More information on the GNCC is available at gncc.ca<https://gncc.ca/>.
For more news on this issue, posted this October 25th, on Niagara At Large, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2019/10/25/ford-backs-away-from-plan-to-slash-number-of-politicians-in-niagara/ .
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