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Sunday, January 19, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Townships looking for public input on Ford’s regional review

Ken Seiling expects changes to come out of the process, but just what they’ll look like remains up in the air

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THIS WEEK

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A change is coming to the way communities organize themselves in the province, and it’s a change that has possibly far reaching consequences for the townships. That’s not a premonition of the result of the province’s fast concluding regional government review, which will wrap up sometime this summer. Rather, it’s the sentiment attributed to the premier by Ken Seiling, one of two special advisors on the Ford government’s review.

“I think they’ve indicated some appetite for change in a lot of areas so far, but it’s not for me to gauge what they’ll do,” said Seiling, ordinarily tight-lipped about the proceedings, in an interview with The Record.

Whether that’s another round of amalgamations or more of the “efficiencies” Ford speaks of will ultimately depend on the PC government. But guiding those discussions, at least in theory, will be the recommendations presented by Seiling and co-advisor Michael Fenn.

The regional government review will be examining regional governments across the province, including the Region of Waterloo, with an eye towards restructuring these governments towards improving efficiency.

Boundaries can be erased and new ones created; municipalities can be cut up and rearranged and glued together in new arrangements. The townships may take on new forms, or even cease to exist all together. The person in charge of fixing the pothole on your street may live down the street, five minutes from her or his constituents, or halfway across a megacity.

Seiling and Fenn’s final report will be a reflection of the comments, concerns, questions critiques and recommendations made by those who take part in the review.

The townships of Wellesley and Woolwich will each be holding public meetings on May 7 to hear the views of residents. More than an exercise in blowing off some steam, the commentary collected at these meetings will be submitted by the townships as part of their official submission to the province.

Because of the short deadline for the regional review to finish its work, coupled with the sheer number of municipalities that need to be reviewed (82), these two meetings next week may be one of few remaining opportunities township residents will have to sway the outcome of the review.

“I really want to encourage everybody, councillors, to call up people you may know and see if you can get them to come out. They’ll be given a ten minute opportunity to speak – if there’s 150 people here, we might cut that back a little bit,” said Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak at a council meeting this week.

“But it will be a great opportunity for them to air their feelings. It’s a big issue, and it’s going to potentially change the way this township looks like for the next long while.”

What is at stake in the outcome of the province’s review of regional governance is the structure, integrity and accountability of our municipal governments – those institutions we depend on for our basic, immediate and often locally distinct services and quality-of-life enhancers like water, waste, emergency, recreation, roads and libraries.

The Region of Waterloo, and other regional governments under consideration in this review, operate on a two-tier municipal system, with authority and responsibility divided (though not always very discernibly) between the two.

But as for who should operate what service, and upon which elected representative’s shoulders the responsibility and accountability should rest is not at all obvious.

The two-tier system might even be scrapped entirely, meaning the townships of Wellesley, Woolwich, Wilmot and North Dumfries would effectively cease to exist, instead being absorbed into a centralized Region of Waterloo megacity.

Residents of the Township of Wellesley will have their opportunity to speak to these changes at a public meeting on May 7 at the township’s council chambers (4805 Williams Hastings Line, Crosshill), beginning at 7 p.m.

Township of Woolwich residents, meanwhile, will be able to join the regional review discussions at the Woolwich council chambers (24 Church St. W., Elmira) on May 7, at a public meeting scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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