Burlington group delegates at the Region: opposed to the amalgamation of municipalities; offers cautions arising from challenges in the recent Provincial budget.

News 100 blueBy Staff

May 17th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

A number of months ago the provincial government announced a review of how municipalities are providing vital services to residents and local businesses.

The announcement came as a surprise – it hadn’t been mentioned during the provincial election that made Doug Ford Premier of the province.

However it did send shivers down the spines of municipalities across the province – was the Premier about to do to them what he did to Toronto – cut the size of city council in half.

The provincial Review was established to review eight regional governments (Durham, Halton, Muskoka District, Niagara, Oxford County, Peel, Waterloo, York), Simcoe County and their lower-tier municipalities. In total, 82 municipalities are included in the review.

The objective of this review is to ensure that these municipalities are providing the vital services that residents and local businesses depend on.

The province appointed Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn as special advisors to assist with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing with the Review. Michael Fenn was once a member of the management team in Burlington.

The province asked the public to “share your thoughts on the municipalities where you live, work or spend time.

“We want to hear your views on the way your elected municipal representatives make their decisions and represent your community. We also want your thoughts and observations on the efficiency, effectiveness and cost of the various municipal services that your municipalities provide.

“In particular, we are looking for your feedback on:

regional governance
decision-making
service delivery

“We will work with this feedback to ensure that our regional government system provides accountability, service delivery and governance that is best for the people of Ontario.

“We will report back on what we heard during this consultation in fall 2019.”

Seiling and Fenn will be listening to delegations at the Regional offices on Friday.

Here is what a Burlington grass roots delegation said:

 

Good Afternoon Mr. Fenn; Mr. Seiling

  • We love Burlington Prov Review signWe are the We Love Burlington Advocacy Group.  We are distinctly ‘grass roots’ and non partisan.  We advocate on a broad range of issues that affect the City of Burlington and its citizens.
  • We mobilized as a very small action group about 6 weeks ago around the regional government review with a primary mission of raising public awareness that the review existed and what its implications could be.  We believe that we have been extremely successful within the very limited time frame available to us.
  • We recognize that the regional government review’s aim is to find efficiencies for the municipalities involved, to improve services and to address governance issues if they are found to exist.  We support these objectives generally.
  • We oppose any suggestion of amalgamation of the City of Burlington into a broader Halton Region organizational structure because we know, as reported in the 2015 Fraser Institute Report, that such actions are seldom fiscally prudent or operationally effective.  We are concerned with a potential:
    •  loss of direct access to local decision-makers and a loss of sensitivity to local needs
    • Loss of Burlington’s distinct and proud heritage
    • Increased bureaucracy and increased government, though potentially fewer politicians which is good
    • Reduced or lost services, and
    • Higher costs resulting in a higher tax burden and larger municipal debt.
  • At present, Burlington has the highest ratio of councillors to citizens of any municipality in the region and we believe, the province (1:30,500 for Ward Councillors and 1:26,143 for Council as a whole).  We believe therefore that we have an “efficient governance structure” which also has the requisite sensitivity to local issues not possible in a larger, less directly accountable and more distant governance model.
  • City council on innauguration Dec 3rd - 2018

    Burlington city council they day they were sworn in: Said to be the best bargain around when it comes to civic government.

    We understand that similar concerns have been put forward in detail by other delegations and in other jurisdictions.  However, we would like to offer some additional cautions arising from challenges in the recent Provincial budget and other initiatives which have been implemented since the announcement of this review in January or which are on the government’s current policy agenda.

  • In particular, the context of local municipal program delivery has changed dramatically in the last few months as a result of the:
    • Opening of private cannabis stores which are now the subject of municipal regulation and enforcement.
    • Reductions in transfers and support to public health entities and the potential for further consolidation of such services
    • Reductions in transfers and support for child care, legal aid and a number of other social assistance programs
    • Elimination of the LHINs and CCACs, with unclear catchment areas and successor organizations, which at the very least creates uncertainty and confusion around any local responsibilities for health care delivery.
    • The proposed availability of wine and beer in corner stores which will create an additional regulatory burden on municipalities and, as in the case of cannabis, require a local focus in such areas as proximity to schools.
    • Proposed changes to planning approvals through Bill 108 which appear to suggest a return to the substance (if not the fact) of the OMB model creating further uncertainty for local and regional planning directions.
    • Potential changes to the Development Charges Act, again through Bill 108, that would download a number of additional costs to municipalities.
    • Proposed changes to the Conservation Authorities Act, Environmental Assessment Act and 11 other pieces of legislation – all with downstream but unclear impacts on municipalities.
  • In light of these considerations, we would submit that a better immediate focus for your review would be a “who does what exercise” prior to any consideration regarding governance and/or the redistribution of program delivery responsibilities.
  • In particular, such a review would provide valuable insight into the optimal organization of service delivery at the local level in what has become a very dynamic policy context.  It should also include an analysis of the net impact to taxpayers when all of the above initiatives are fully implemented.
  • Indeed, how can we identify the overall cost/benefit of anything coming from the regional government review when the impact of provincial downloading to the municipalities is still unknown?  We’re not saying that benefits won’t be derived but what will be the net result?
  • In addition, there are processes and process improvements to the existing environment that could be mandated by the review; such things as a commitment to a defined exercise of self analysis by the municipalities in the region or common targets for further efficiencies in the current structure; a process of continuous improvement.
  • There are also possible specific efficiency opportunities within the existing governance model.
  • For example, consider optimizing/rebalancing procurement responsibilities.
  • Could the region execute contracts and procurement deals with broader scope of application, hence greater potential savings?
  • Are regional vendors of record a viable option?
  • Are provincial vendors of record available to the region with even greater potential scope for application and savings?
  • Is regional fleet management a possibility since, historically, discreet organizations often over buy and under utilize?
  • Are the information technology platforms common across the region and truly interoperable?  Is full advantage being taken of a common data resource/catalogue across all municipalities?
  • city hall with flag poles

    “We firmly believe that an empowered citizen is the single best and most critical element of any governance structure that you could devise.”

    Is “Open Government” a reality enabling an informed and committed citizenry within the governance structure or merely window dressing?  We firmly believe that an empowered citizen is the single best and most critical element of any governance structure that you could devise.

  • We believe that before significant change is made to our existing governance and service delivery environment, available but non-disruptive improvements should be made first.  Our overriding concern is that that there is a limited capacity for the quantum of change to municipalities that is anticipated over the coming months.  And the system is in danger of being overloaded and becoming dysfunctional.
  • Large business transformation and restructuring projects often fail not because they are ill-conceived but because too many projects at once, no matter how worthwhile, result in overloading what is essentially a ‘closed system’.  Each project is critical on its own merits but the final tally of impact can be devastating.  Cultural and organizational change is not inherently ‘open-ended’.
  • We believe that it is prudent that you, as the Reviewers, help the government take the time to understand the complexity of the various organizational, governance and service delivery models that are being reviewed.
  • We also believe that it is equally critical for you to identify where the true problems lie and the distinctive and varied nature of the opportunities for improvement.  We support recent announcements that suggest that distinct and varied solutions are being sought; that there is no “cookie cutter” approach contemplated.
  • We understand that change is both necessary and positive as long as it is thoughtfully done with better service to the citizen and better stewardship of public resources as the goal.
  • However, even necessary changes imposed without a solid, well-understood environment for service delivery and decision-making can lead to system-wide confusion if not failure.
  • We know that you are searching for “good ideas” but even the best ideas can be injurious to a system that is overtaxed with unclear outcomes and dwindling, uncertain resources.  Today there are simply too many undecided elements in the policy and funding framework that municipalities have been handed by the province.
  • We welcome examination of services that could possibly be more effectively planned, funded, delivered and/or co-ordinated at the regional rather than City/town level; that would benefit through broadening the scope of operation.  However, we have not conducted a detailed analysis and will not offer candidates carelessly.
  • We are opposed to any direction that would further distance the citizens of Burlington from those whom they elected.
  • Although we may not always agree with the decisions of our chosen officials we support the decision-making process and would argue that the citizen’s voice is both heard and respected in Burlington and in Halton generally.
  • In closing, we understand the objectives of the review and support them.

We believe that Halton Region is well run with a governance model that works and a service delivery model that is continually reviewed with necessary adjustments and improvements made.

  • It has even been referenced by one of our provincial representatives as a “poster child” for regional excellence.
  • We love B Prov Rev

    They took an appeal to the Burlington MPP at Queen’s Park – and came away basically empty handed. From left to right: Deborah Ruse Lynn Crosby, Blair Smith and Josie Wagstaff

    We are concerned, however, that the review may impose change on a structure that has already experienced multiple shocks and can no longer absorb their impact.  We caution you to proceed slowly and with a view to the cumulative financial and operational impacts of recent provincial policy directions.

  • Finally, we firmly believe that the citizens of the affected communities should have a decisive and deciding voice in any proposed changes.
  • We understand that the review and its consequences are entirely within the powers and prerogatives of the provincial government.  We do not challenge that.  But not one individual voted for them a year ago when they were unannounced and perhaps not even contemplated.  As Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa opined – “Just Cos You Can, Don’t Mean You Should”.

 

 

 

 

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7 comments to Burlington group delegates at the Region: opposed to the amalgamation of municipalities; offers cautions arising from challenges in the recent Provincial budget.

  • Barry Reed

    Your concerns are well received. Ideas for efficiencies are welcome, but do we trust this provincial government to act in the municipalities best interests?

  • stan stainton

    Conservatives continue to roll up enemies with an election 3 years away.
    Amalgamation is their biggest mistake not only in 3 years but for decades to come.
    Amalgamating three healthy , efficient well governed cities then the disaster of a large less efficient Governing body will ALWAYS BE BEFORE US thru the years.

    Why do they hate themselves so much as the residents of 3 wealthy cities will stop financial support & voter support to them. Genuinely weird.

  • Alex Brooks-Joiner

    Changes from time to time are needed to strengthen the democratic system and to find capital and operational efficiencies throughout governing layers. The two should not negatively effect the other. The present review by the Tories was not part of an election promise because as setup, it will likely have outcomes that degrade democracy in Ontario. The electorate will remember.

  • Gary Scobie

    Your delegation is well researched, well thought out and well structured. It should be well understood by both the assigned reviewers and the citizens of Burlington. It offers both cautions and suggestions, as any good report should. Thank you We Love Burlington.

  • Alfred

    Place that decision right in the hands of all the citizens. A referendum on this issue should bring about a just outcome. Loud anti-groups seem to drown out the voices of the quiet majority.

    • Blair Smith

      Thank you Alfred – that’s exactly what we’re recommending. If you read the delegation then you know that we’re quite comfortable with the decision being placed before the citizens and the citizens deciding the outcome.

  • BJ

    A great presentation. I hope that the reviewers listened and agreed with this Committee.

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