The Provincial Review report is believed to be in the Minister's hands - when will the public get to read it? Ever?

opinionred 100x100Blair Smith and Lynn Crosby

October 7th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

“If you judge from appearances here,’ replied Madame de Chartres, ‘you will be often mistaken; what appears is seldom the truth.”
Madame de La Fayette, The Princesse de Clèves

Or to paraphrase in modern idiom, “what you see may not be what you get.” Appearances are deceptive, particularly when there is an intent to mask what is planned.

For months now WeLoveBurlington has been warning the citizens of Burlington and Halton of the potential dangers of regional government amalgamation. We have talked about the possible MegaCity of Halton, the flawed process of the regional government review, the history of the reviewers, the comforting ‘party line’ assurances of our elected representatives and the broken consultation record of our current provincial government.

We love logoWe have attempted to be fair, accurate and non-partisan. We have posted links to numerous articles, several by noted conservative analysts, that all have a common message – municipal amalgamation is seldom successful. Most frequently, it results in higher taxes, greater municipal debt, reduced services, increased cost of government and loss of local voice.

One of our Burlington MPPs has claimed categorically that there will be no amalgamation of any of the municipalities in Halton; another Oakville MPP has cited MegaCity warnings as “false and misleading”. So, where does the truth fall? Let’s examine one possibility – that external appearances may remain much the same but the truth will be a dramatically restructured region under the covers.

Once “the report” is made public in late Fall/early Winter – and we see no reason why it shouldn’t be – what might it contain? Here is one of many possible scenarios. Perhaps the review will leave the existing Halton Council structures much the same – both in name and in number. Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Halton Hills will remain with their existing contingent of councilors and mayors. They will continue to hold meetings, set budgets (within certain parameters) and develop plans responding to constituent needs and operational priorities.

carrot

Is this a case of – what you see is what you get – or are appearances really deceiving?

In other words, the local identity will still be the local identity – at least in appearance. But will the program, policy and operational frameworks be the same? Suppose that instead of ‘amalgamation’ we have ‘consolidation’ using a model that is quite common and in extensive use within the provincial government; that of the “cluster” or centre-satellite.

Within this scenario policy, program development and administrative control are exercised at the “centre”; local service operations by the ‘municipality’. So, it is likely that all remaining emergency services (health, fire and police in total) will be consolidated at the regional level. So too will transit have a regional scope rather than local presence with much tighter integration with integrated ticketing (Presto farecard) and centralized scheduling/operations. Purchasing would be done regionally, using developed vendors-of-record or accessing provincial agreements and local fleet management would be a thing of the past.

Could there be economies of scale and efficiencies realized? Possibly, if done well but the increase in the regional bureaucracy will be extensive and the local municipalities will likely maintain much the same staffing. There will also be local Information technology, legal, finance, human resource and Clerk functions but they will report to senior portfolio executives on the Regional level and it will be the latter, sitting as an Executive Committee, who will set policy frameworks, strategic directions and operational program components. In fairness, there could still be benefits achieved that might mitigate the remove of local service provision to a more distant governance structure.

However, it becomes increasingly more problematic as more and more functions, thus power and control, are vested in the regional centre with probable loss of sensitivity to local service issues and environment.

The death knell of local voice, local expression and local direction would be the regional consolidation of municipal land planning, development and management functions. This is the prize that, arguably, is the animus behind the whole review exercise; the jewel teasingly revealed by tentative provincial forays into the protected green-belt and then openly burnished by Bill 108.

WeLoveBurlington has, from the onset, stressed the interconnection between the regional governance review, Bill 108 and the proposed restructuring of land development mediation/arbitration functions – from OMB to LPAT to RPAT?? Indeed, for at least eight years, Burlington has been caught in the vise-grip of provincial intensification targets, bureaucratic indifference, private sector self-interest and an arrogant, entitled Council. Much of the damage has unfortunately been done and is beyond recall but the people’s voice – clearly heard last October 22nd – needs to resonate again and loudly.

Is this outcome conjecture? Yes, but it’s also a reasoned and very possible direction. It would leave only the shell of local authority to mask a consolidated, centralized and distanced governance at the region, a MegaCity in everything but name. Whether ultimately fantasy or foresight, WeLoveBurlington will provide an unbiased and balanced assessment of the change. Even if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we’ll still let citizens know if they’ve actually been given a turkey.

Question for Burlington Federal Candidates
We have submitted the following question to the candidates representing Burlington in the upcoming federal election. We will post any replies that we receive.

Recognizing that municipalities are the creatures of the provincial government and almost totally under provincial control, what could you do, as Burlington’s federal government representative, to ensure that the City retains a strong identity with a resonant local voice?

Fenn and Seiling

Michael Fenn and Robert Seiling did the Provincial Review; Fenn was once the city manager of Burlington.

Regional Review Report Received by Minister

The CBC reported last week that the regional review report has been in Minister Steve Clark’s hands since September 20.

The article states: “Clark said he would take his time with the report before he presents the findings to his cabinet colleagues as “confidential advice” and before deciding whether to make the details public.

Related news stories.

Provincial Review: The issue

What the Lovelies had to say.

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