To the Editor,
Efficiency or democracy? That is the question.
In his Dec. 6 editorial in this newspaper, my good friend Chad Ingram is most eloquent in his argument for doing away with our township governments and putting our future exclusively in the hands of a single-tier county government. Trouble is, I don’t agree with him. I believe that each step toward ever-larger government units is profoundly anti-democratic.
One of the best things about living in a small community is that it’s easy to get the attention of the politicians and bureaucrats whose decisions matter to you. Chances are you are personally acquainted with at least one of those politicians and that he or she will listen to your opinions. Chances are all of the politicians have intimate knowledge of the lives and landscapes their decisions will affect.
If Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills disappear, how many members of an amalgamated county council will understand the history and hopes of, say, Cardiff, as well as the old Highlands East council did? How many will ever have driven up Minden’s Scotch Line hill? How many will be my acquaintances?
I walk into my township office to ask about getting some kind of permit and, if the person serving me doesn’t recognize me, likely somebody else in the office will, and eavesdrop until they are sure I have had my questions answered. That’s the essence of living in a small town, the very reason we choose to live here, the essence of democracy. As government jurisdictions expand, the feeling of being connected fades away.
Amalgamations have been gobbling up townships across Ontario for a couple of decades now, and each gobble is accompanied by promises that it will make things work better. Ask the folks of rural Kawartha Lakes how they feel about those promises, about how well amalgamation has worked for them, about the efficiency of closing down their libraries and volunteer fire departments.
Chad argues that each of our little governmental units, our townships, find themselves dealing with the same questions and that amalgamation will lead to county-wide consistency on how they are resolved. That assumes that consistency is always a good thing, that there is only one solution to any issue, that it will work as well for Algonquin Highlands as for Dysart, that their councils will reach the same conclusion, that folks who live in each township will want the same solution.
Single-tier would go even further than we have already in turning municipal politics into a full-time job, leaving the kind of community leaders who once volunteered to serve their neighbours now watching from the sidelines and make running for elected office an expensive proposition.
But suppose Chad is correct in all his arguments, that townships are “inefficient and redundant and archaic,” that their continued existence leads to a patchwork of inconsistent policies. Well, our topography is a patchwork. And if our township boundaries tend to be artificial, so do county lines. Politicians just over the line in Kawartha Lakes and Hastings and Muskoka confront the same problems that puzzle our township councils.
So if amalgamation is the answer, why settle for a lonely county government? Haliburton already works with Kawartha Lakes on many issues; why not turn our county into a ward of that City next door? But why stop there? Give Muskoka and Parry Sound a call. The Regional Municipality of Trillium Lakelands – there’s the ticket. Send all our redundant policies and politicians packing.
Sorry, Chad! I just extended and exaggerated your argument the least little bit. As for me, I’m glad to still be able to write that I live in the Township of Minden Hills.