Will Halton Region Become One City?
Changes may be coming to Halton Region soon…and they may not be something that the communities of Halton have asked for.
During the hectic last minute changes to municipal elections in 2018, the provincial government announced that there will be a review of how regional government across Ontario is working…and now the details of that pending review have finally arrived.
Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark announced that former Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling and former Ontario deputy minister Michael Fenn would serve as advisors to conduct a broad examination and provide recommendations to improve governance, decision-making and service delivery in regional governments.
Not all communities are being affected, as the review is only for Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo and York Regions, as well as Muskoka District, Oxford County and Simcoe County. The review includes examining the cities and towns within those regional governments.
In a phone call with inbrampton.com, Clark said that Simcoe was included because of similar population growth pressures and infrastructure needs they're facing akin with what the other regions were experiencing.
He also said that after 50 years it was time to do a review of regional governments to make sure they're "working efficiently and effectively." A number of those regional governments were modeled along the lines of the former Metro Toronto configuration, back when Toronto was divided into six separate municipalities.
The previous Mike Harris government in the late 1990s amalgamated those six former municipalities and Metro Toronto into the current megacity we know today.
“Our government committed to improving the way regional government works and we will be looking at ways to make better use of taxpayers’ dollars and make it easier for residents and businesses to access important municipal services,” Clark said.
Fenn and Seiling have been tasked to work with the province to look into easier access to municipal services, making municipalities more "open for business" as well as "cutting red tape and duplication" to save costs.
The two advisors are also tasked with answering some of the following questions:
Does the existing model support the capacity of the municipalities to make decisions efficiently?
Are two-tier structures appropriate for all of these municipalities?
Do the ways that regional councillors/heads of council get elected/appointed to serve on regional council help to align lower- and upper-tier priorities?
Is there opportunity for more efficient allocation of various service responsibilities?
Are there barriers to making effective and responsive infrastructure and service delivery decisions?
The review will include consultations with municipal councilors and leaders, stakeholder organizations, local businesses and the public in the spring of 2019.
You may be wondering, with the terms of reference in this review, if the provincial government is looking into doing another round of municipal amalgamations like the previous Conservatives did twenty or so years ago. Clark also said that he is only focused on finding efficiencies and improving services.
"It's really up to municipalities to put it on the table when it comes to amalgamation. If someone want to talk about that subject, they can put it forward to my advisors."
The Ontario NDP released a statement harkening back to the days of Harris when it came to amalgamation, saying the premier was "again meddling with municipalities."
"Ford has already tabled a scheme to Swiss cheese the greenbelt and remove important drinking water protections, and now it looks like he's unilaterally pursuing amalgamation. The last time Doug Ford meddled in municipal governments, we saw the Conservatives abruptly axe more than two dozen local elections, including three regional chair elections," said Jeff Burch, the NDP's Municipal Affairs critic.
"Ford was so intent on settling old scores with his political foes that he even wielded the notwithstanding clause as the Conservatives ran roughshod over these local democratic processes. The NDP is deeply concerned that the Ford Conservatives are planning to use the regional review as a pretext to impose amalgamation on municipalities. The premier's job is to respect the will of democratically elected local governments and work with them, not attempt to override their wishes and control their regions."
The cities in Halton Region, unlike neighbouring Peel, are more or less growing at the same rate and as such the services provided should be more on an equal footing. The most sensible change might be to merge Milton and Halton Hills together as one larger town while retaining the existing regional structure.
But of course, we’re talking about the Ford government that’s got a knack for making shocking decisions. This opinion piece surmises that Burlington will become part of Hamilton, Halton Hills would become part of Wellington County and Milton and Oakville could join Peel (if it still exists).
Or perhaps…Halton Region will just become one big City of Halton?
Who knows if that would happen, but it would be interesting to see people show up to the governance review advocating such a thing.
Other thoughts surrounding the other areas being examined by the review:
Brampton and Mississauga could possibly be split off into single tier municipalities, with Caledon joining Dufferin County…or they could be merged together to create ‘a City of Peel’ or the awful sounding name of ‘Bramsauga’.
York Region is currently over one million people, with growing cities such as Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill (RH technically calls itself a town, even though it has almost 200,000 residents) as well as smaller towns like Aurora, East Gwillimbury and Georgina. York may be having a similar urban-rural divide the Peel municipalities are experiencing and it won't be surprising to hear some kind of change in York.
Simcoe County is an interesting case because it's most populated city, Barrie, is a separated municipality apart from Simcoe so it's not part of the review. But towns like Innisfil and Bradford are rapidly growing in population alongside smaller communities such as Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Springwater. One suggestion that might come up is splitting Simcoe's quieter, northern communities from the rapidly growing southern part to allow the latter to better manage that growth.
Whatever happens with this review, people need to get up and be more vigilant as to what their government is planning to do to their communities. This government values its image as being "for the people"; well…those people need to speak up, even if they support whatever the government wants to do in the end.
For more information on the province's regional governance review, click here.
Cover photo courtesy of the Region of Halton’s Twitter page.
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