Feedback from the public decidedly opposed to any hint of amalgamation in Waterloo Region, Woolwich councillors quickly moved this week to register their own disapproval of that prospect.
In a special public-input session prior to Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, township residents and representatives alike had a message for the province and its review of regional government: hands off. Sure, there may be some efficiencies to be found, but the underlying structure of regional government here – an upper-tier region and seven lower-tier municipalities – works generally well, they argue.
“We do two-tier really well here,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz as council drafted a motion to be sent to the province and special advisors Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling, the latter a recently retired chair of Waterloo Region.
Those addressing the issue Tuesday night often noted the last round of amalgamations in the province did not deliver on any of the touted upsides – savings and efficiencies not only failed to materialize, but the opposite was often the case.
Calling it a “vain attempt at being better by being bigger,” Elmira-area resident Eric Schwindt said amalgamation would not be good for Woolwich.
“I would be completely opposed to any time of amalgamation for our township. Our local government is our local voice,” he said, noting a regional government would have little rural representation and no knowledge of local issues.
Decisions would be made by people removed from local concerns and interests, he said.
“We can find solutions to our own problems,” said resident Sandra Bray of keeping the current system, pointing to home-grown projects such as the Elmira Bus and Trees for Woolwich that might not happen under a single-tier structure.
“I am strongly opposed to amalgamation.”
Elmira resident Sheryl Tilley, too, stress that amalgamation won’t benefit rural areas, noting the last round of amalgamation in the province delivered no savings while providing less to many of the communities, particularly the smaller ones.
That refrain was echoed by Coun. Murray Martin.
“If you think you’re going to save money, you’re fooling yourself,” he said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Coun. Scott McMillan likened a potential single-tier region to his experience as a trustee on the Waterloo Region District School Board, where he was the lone voice for Woolwich and Wellesley townships – it was a “struggle” to get the message out about rural concerns.
“We have a distinctly different culture in the townships.”
“I think we have to have people that are in the community to voice the opinions of the community. If we have everybody in one location and not out in the community, then you’re not going to have the proper representation,” added Coun. Larry Shantz.
“I would not be in favour of amalgamation in Waterloo Region because it would put too much distance from our rural residents to whatever form regional government takes,” said Coun. Fred Redekop.
For Coun. Patrick Merlihan, there’s a fear that the review process already has a preordained outcome, despite provincial denials. That’s a comment he’s heard from more than a few residents.
“I really hope that it isn’t a foregone conclusion. I’m taking a belief that it’s not, and the provincial government does actually want to make meaningful change for municipalities.”
While opposed to amalgamation, he sees room for improvement in the relationship between the region and the lower-tier municipalities.
The Ford government is looking to move quickly on its regional review, with public comments being solicited until May 21. Residents can provide feedback online at www.ontario.ca/page/consultation-regional-government-review.