There’s no appetite for amalgamation in Wellesley, township councillors heard this week at a special meeting to discuss the province’s review of regional government.
Residents out Tuesday night expressed concerns about the potential loss of community and responsiveness if the township gets rolled into a single government along with the other six lower-tier municipalities in the region. Critics have suggested that’s the end game for the Doug Ford’s review of some 82 municipalities, another round of amalgamations like those foisted on Ontarians the last time the Conservatives were in charge at Queen’s Park.
If the process overseen by former Region of Waterloo chair Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn is taking public comments to heart, the message coming from Wellesley was clear.
“The township has an identity, and amalgamation means a loss of identity,” said Jeff Quint of Waterloo North Hydro. “You have people in your community, working for your community. I think that’s very important. When you work, live and play in the community you serve, your heart is in a different spot.”
Among the critiques of amalgamation raised Tuesday night was a decrease in the efficiency of emergency services, increased housing costs, outcome of recreation services such as parks and community centres, paying for priorities that are crucial to larger municipalities and not rural – for example, a light rail transit system that Wellesley residents here will rarely, if ever, use – and the accessibility of local council members.
“We can pick up the phone right now, and we call our councillor, we can call our mayor,” said Wellesley Lions Club member Murray Bremner. “We can probably call staff, or send an email. We can call any number of those people and get an answer.
“Trying to do that after some kind of amalgamation … maybe we have one person looking after all of Wellesley Township – it would be a great loss of service.”
Others pointed to the flaws in the current provincial government, specifically budget cuts that have affected many sectors.
“Quality of life is something that you cannot measure the efficiency of. When a neighbour sees that another neighbour needs help on the fields because they’ve broken a leg or an arm, how do you measure the economic efficiency of that?” asked Wellesley resident Neil Lackey. “Unfortunately, I don’t think our current provincial government is actually measuring any of these efficiencies.
“When we only focus on the bottom economic line, we are unintentionally creating a deficit in this neighbourly social efficiency.”
Maintaining there’s no predetermined outcome, special advisors Seiling and Fenn will be assessing the feedback, then providing their recommendations Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark.
In late August or early September, the province will provide a clearer direction on how things will proceed following the review. Matthew Stubbings, a representative of Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, observed Tuesday’s meeting.
The review is still open to feedback for almost three more weeks until May 21. For anyone looking to have their say, the online form can be accessed at www.ontario.ca/page/consultation-regional-government-review.