‘Jury’s out’ on a regional revamp: Seiling

By Casey Taylor

The province is sending strong signals a regional revamp is likely on the way.

The Ford Tories say they are looking to make municipalities more efficient by doing away with bureaucratic duplication, the main stated goal though: building more homes.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Steve Clark tabled new legislation Wednesday aimed, in part, at reassessing regional governance structures in Durham, Halton, Niagara, Peel, Waterloo, and York.

In doing that, the province says it will also appoint 'facilitators' who will work with local governments “to assess the best mix of roles and responsibilities between upper and lower-tier municipalities.”

Exactly what that means here at home isn't quite clear yet but, despite quick criticism from Ontario's opposition parties, Waterloo Region's longest-serving past chair suggests it's not necessarily a bad thing.

“It's another opportunity to take one more look at whether some things could be done more efficiently,” said Ken Seiling, who served as Waterloo's Regional Chair from 1985 to 2018. “Questions that have always been raised around here, like do we need seven fire departments for example and things like that.”

“So I guess the jury's still out and we'll wait to see what the province comes forward with in the weeks ahead when they outline what these [facilitators] are going to do.”

Despite that, already some talk of potential amalgamation in the Region's future and that has left some in the community feeling a sense of unease.

Seiling suggested that sentiment is understandable given most people do tend to feel most connected to the closest level of government to them.

“That's a natural reaction and that's why, quite frankly in municipal reform right across the province, I don't think you'll ever see any municipal reform that wasn't either done by the province or done under the threat that 'if you don't do something, we'll do something',” he said.

And while it's still not quite clear what powers or authority these so-called 'facilitators' will hold, for his part, Seiling suggested he hopes they will find a local willingness to work with them.

As for potential amalgamation, Seiling said there's a mixed bag of opinions on that one too.

“I think you have to ask people in Hamilton whether they think it works, Ottawa whether it works, Toronto whether it works,” he said. “I think there are lots of opinions on that.”

“There are people who are adamantly opposed to it, there are people who think that's the way to go, and given the fact the government wants to eliminate duplication and overlap I guess the question is which is the best model for this region to go forward with.”

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