Councillors in favour of review of municipal governance
By Jenn Watt
Published Jan. 24, 2019
Municipal representatives say a review needs to be done of the way Haliburton County’s two-tier government and services work, and that people should keep an open mind about what the outcome of that process will be.
Last week, the province announced a review of more than 80 municipalities, with an advisory body providing expert advice to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Recommendations are to focus on municipal governance, decision-making and service delivery.
Haliburton County is not involved in the review, however, local politicians say it would be prudent to examine how the county and the four lower-tier municipal governments are run.
Liz Danielsen, county warden and Algonquin Highlands deputy mayor, said she recently attended a meeting of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and the consensus is that everyone needs to help out and reduce costs.
“ While not actually mandated by the province, we were encouraged to have discussions on how to seek efficiencies wherever we can, form alliances or partnerships with neighbouring municipalities or counties and find better ways of doing business rather than heading straight into ‘amalgamation’ discussions which doesn’t seem to be something the province is contemplating for small rural areas,” Danielsen told the Times via email.
The outcome of the provincial reviews could help inform Haliburton County’s process, she said. County council will soon be discussing priorities for the year.
“Meanwhile conversations are taking place at staff levels on how to achieve efficiencies and work more collaboratively. There are numerous reports suggesting that amalgamation does not result in cost savings and, at the same time, there are examples of partnerships that have been very successful,” she said.
Carol Moffatt, Algonquin Highlands mayor, said she had also found through her research that amalgamation doesn’t always bring cost savings.
“In fact, many amalgamations have negatively affected representation, responsiveness and access to government; have increased staffing levels and have had little effect on operations,” she said in an email.
“I’ve also talked to an awful lot of people about this and the common thread in those conversations isn’t necessarily amalgamation but efficiency: similarities across jurisdictions (bylaws), less onerous processes (forms, fees), and consolidation of certain services (fire). We need to examine what would be gained, lost and absorbed in a full amalgamation and then weigh those against what we want to be as a community.”
Moffatt said she didn’t have a firm position on a model of government, but was open to having an “informed discussion” about it. She said she’d like to see an unbiased third party undertake the review with public consultation.
“I see the premise of this process is being who and what we want to be and how best to achieve that. Maybe it’s amalgamation and maybe it isn’t but one thing is for certain: Haliburton County is changing quickly and a macro discussion needs to happen. There are myriad reasons to firmly craft our own future and I look forward to working with my colleagues on how it unfolds,” she said.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin said he wasn’t surprised the provincial PC government was undertaking the review.
“Certainly, the announcement last week of these regions and one of our closest neighbours [the District of Muskoka] to come under review in this regard comes as no surprise, either,” he said in an interview. “I think philosophically … they would like to simplify government both in terms of scale and numerically. It seems consistent with their philosophy.”
He said these reviews could be the first of many.
“To think it’s started with some regions that are a bit larger than ours, I fully suspect at some point the same type of analysis will go across a number of municipalities in Ontario, including ones that are potentially of our scale,” he said.
Devolin said he would like to see county council take the first steps in the process of a “critical self analysis” in 2019.
“I think the time for analysis is now. I think we can have a made-in-Haliburton outcome. And that that’s far preferable from any government, including this one, to come along at a certain point [and] they impose their remedy or fix for it.”
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts agreed with her colleagues that a discussion about efficiency needed to happen, though cautioned that amalgamation wasn’t the only possible outcome.
Roberts said it was best that county council begin the conversation themselves.
“No one wants to be forced into it if it isn’t what we want, but it would be best to be proactive now and start our own conversation. We know our community best,” she said via email.
She envisioned a task force set up by the county including councillors and experts who could examine the facts and look at an implementation plan.
Dysart Deputy Mayor Patrick Kennedy said he was in favour of finding cost savings and improving services, but didn’t think one tier was always the best solution.
“The argument in favour of moving to single tier is that services delivered by one, larger body will provide greater value for money for residents and more efficient public services. Many research papers have found that not to be the case, in fact some have become more expensive,” Kennedy said in response to questions by email.
Kennedy said he envisioned the process to start with hiring a consultant to review the current situation, reporting back to council, which would then have a conversation about next steps, which could include new roles for upper and lower tiers or a move to one tier.