Amalgamation proponents in Waterloo Region make assumptions about potential benefits of one government that have yet to be proven successful anywhere else where amalgamation has occurred.
For example, in nearby Hamilton, studies showed that amalgamation caused significant increases in property taxes (up 50%), increased compensation for municipal employees (up 52%), and increased long-term debt (up 111%) to name a few. There were no tangible benefits for residents in Hamilton with amalgamation.
The ideology that mergers are a “public good” and come with vast benefits and savings is unproven. In business, mergers happen for a variety of reasons — none of which are for the “public good”. Business mergers happen to create economies of scale, synergies, diversification of products or services, eliminate competition and growth to increase its value. Typically, job cuts through redundancies are required to realize any of these benefits.
I can tell you from my professional experience, that the newspaper industry is an excellent example of how mergers and acquisitions have led to the decline in print journalism long before digital disruption hit this industry. Newspaper owners looking to sell titles to corporate interests accelerated within the last twenty years. Of those publications many were merged, managed from afar, or shut down over time. To make those acquisitions profitable, journalists were pink slipped — an easy, short-sighted way to shed large expenses.
There are a handful of large corporate media companies that control more than half of the media in Canada. Many communities no longer have a local news source or have diminished offerings to inform their residents and tell their stories. When communities lose their newspaper they lose connections, shared identity, oversight of government, economic prosperity, and a voice for the public good. Less democracy happens. I believe we can agree that this model hasn’t worked out to well for the public or the media industry.
As previous studies on amalgamated efforts elsewhere in Ontario have proven, there is no evidence that larger Councils are more effective or efficient then rural governments. Bigger is not always better.
Woolwich Township residents have much to lose within a one-tier government. We have a long history and a strong local identity within our communities. I am certain that our local identity will be weaker and/or lost within a one-tier Waterloo Region. If my past four and half years as a Woolwich Councillor are an indication of what we can expect from a Regional government, I am very concerned with the prospect of losing our independence.
As a “partner” in the Waterloo Region family it is clear to me that our partnership is merely tolerated in the upper levels. The attitude that Woolwich and the townships benefit far greater than what they contribute is commonplace. While it is popular to stick to positive talking points of our collective strength, it is, in my opinion, lip-service by politicians. In the background, staff wield the greatest influence. Regional staff routinely applies cookie-cutter solutions that work in urban centres, without consideration for Township needs.
As one example, this past election at an all-candidate meeting, almost every question to candidates dealt with issues resulting from Regional decisions in our communities. Without local representation residents can expect greater frustrations with decision-making in a one-tier government. I have been disappointed with the attitudes towards the townships from the Regional level. I can only expect that this attitude will become more overt with amalgamation. Regional politicians have given little reason to suggest they have the fortitude to direct their staff any differently.
As a Councillor I continue to have frustration with our “partner” in planning, transit, policing, roads, waste-management (transfer station), public health, traffic, cross-walks and affordable-housing. We knock heads often because of the lack of foresight, vision and knowledge about how we want our communities to function. Amalgamation will definitely help stifle the debate behind the scenes, because we won’t have a choice.
Governments everywhere should always be looking for improvement. They should be responsive to the communities they serve and make effective use of the public purse. Improving public service delivery should be a daily on-going conversation. Dredging up unproven political ideology to force communities to amalgamate is a mistake.
Our two-tier system can be improved, but amalgamation is not for us. I believe that.
I am interested to hear from residents about their thoughts on self-determination of Woolwich Township. The Township will be hosting a Public Meeting May 7 at 6:00pm in Council chambers. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
To submit your comments to the province please visit:
The Woolwich Council motion passed Tuesday May 7, 2019:
Whereas the Ontario Government is reviewing the governance, decision-making and service delivery functions of 8 regional municipalities and Simcoe County including Waterloo Region;
And whereas the Council of the Township of Woolwich held a public meeting on May 7, 2019;
And whereas the prevailing public input was in support of maintaining the two-tier system of government with continuous improvement in terms of overall efficiency and effectiveness;
And whereas independent studies to date have referenced that amalgamation does not save money and decreases civic engagement;
And whereas the CAO's within Waterloo Region have an ongoing, long standing practice of evaluating and implementing service delivery improvements that benefit the residents of Waterloo Region;
Now therefore be it resolved that the Council submit a summary of the minutes of the meeting along with copies of delegation submissions and indicate their clear support for the continuation of the two-tier structure in Waterloo Region.