Burlington residents, earlier this month, I attended a pair of meetings related to the Province of Ontario’s review of Regional Government. The following is a recap of what was discussed and presented at both of those meetings.
The first meeting was with special advisers appointed by the Province Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling that I attended with Interim City Manager Tim Commisso. The meeting was focused on the following:
- Perspective on governance
- Delivery of service
We discussed Burlington’s interests in the review and that we are focused on what is in the best interest of our citizens, in our city and overall for Halton Region. We shared what we believe is working well in Burlington and Halton, and our perspective on some key themes.
1. Don’t Fix what is Not Broken:
- Halton Region is already well-managed and efficient, with a Triple A credit rating, designation of safest region in the country, tax increases at or below the rate of inflation for more than a decade and community satisfaction with services;
- Municipalities already co-operate on shared services: for example, the Halton District Police Services Board, and Halton Court Services;
- We are open to discussing additional shared service delivery, and already do that on an ongoing basis without needing prompting from the Province;
- Burlington is well-managed and efficient, with the smallest council size of any Halton municipality, and any city our size, with 7 members. This also allows us to serve full-time, rather than off the side of our desk;
- We are asking for a “handshake-not-a-hatchet” approach to this conversation; and
- We stressed avoiding “change for change’s sake,” so as not to impact a long-standing co-operative relationship between the City, Region and Province.
2. One size doesn’t fit all:
- Mississauga has made a case to be a single-tier municipality and is requesting change. Focus on municipalities like these that have specifically asked for change; and
- Halton, and the four municipalities, are not asking for change, which would be disruptive. No business case has been presented to show it would be cost-effective, and may in fact increase costs, which was the Toronto experience after council size was reduced.
3. Each municipality is unique; the current structure protects local identity and democracy:
- Burlington residents will not support becoming part of a “City of Halton” where their identity is lost, and their democratic voice is diluted within a larger, less-directly accountable, council;
- No Halton municipality supports a “City of Halton” amalgamated structure; and
- Forced amalgamation will alienate residents, and obliterate any message around efficiencies (and no evidence has been presented that efficiencies will materialize).
4. The province can help us by speeding their own efficiencies:
- More timely processing of permits by MTO (Ministry of Transporation Ontario), MOE (Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks) , or other provincial departments, would cut red tape and add efficiencies;
- Eliminating the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal would save municipalities millions, and get reasonable developments approved much faster;
- Province meeting shared cost agreements on social services (which cost our region millions) would provide greater efficiency in delivery of services; and
- Giving municipalities additional powers would speed approvals. We need a new arrangement — not children of the province where we can’t move forward in a timely manner without provincial approval.
Overall the meeting was positive and informative. The special advisers discussed their report preparation process, as well as sharing with us that they have not been directed toward a particular outcome. The report will evolve as they conduct interviews and gather information. They were very clear that they are only providing advice through Provincial Cabinet, albeit they may make some recommendations.
We are not scheduled to meet again, nor will there be broad public consultation, however, the special advisers welcome written submissions — any questions can also be emailed to email@example.com.
The second meeting I attended was between the Halton Regional Chair, the four Mayors of Halton, and the area CAOs. This meeting was a debrief of all the individual meetings between the special advisers and each of the Mayors and Regional Chair. It was evident that each municipality shared similar messages:
- Not interested in a City of Halton;
- Not interested in eliminating Halton Region; and
- Support and willingness to look at where changes could occur in municipal service delivery and to make government more efficient and affordable — something we already do on an ongoing and regular basis. We will simply continue that work.
It was agreed upon that a joint letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and special advisers Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling would be sent thanking them for the opportunity to convey our shared perspective, and providing some key messages.
Each municipality and the Region will work on a separate resolution related to Regional Government Review to be brought before respective local councils and Regional Council for approval, to provide opportunity for public input, and to speak with one voice on a shared message back to provincial government on this matter. Those resolutions are expected from each municipality in late February.
I will be bringing our Resolution Regarding Regional Government Review via a memo at tonight’s (Monday, Feb. 25) Burlington City Council meeting.
Additionally, Burlington is having a Committee of the Whole workshop on March 7 on Governance and Government Relations and this matter will be discussed. We will continue to have updates and touch points for council and the community throughout the process leading up to the conclusion and delivery of the report to the province in June.