by Shane Jolley, Co-ordinator,
LocalMotive Project in Grey-Bruce
In recent months, much discussion has arisen about eliminating the local municipalities and councils in Grey and Bruce and moving to a single tier municipal government. The services provided by our towns and townships, from filling potholes to local land use planning, would become the responsibility of the county. Proponents claim that such backward measures are required to address rising costs and encourage more cooperation across current municipal boundaries. These are valid concerns. But if the municipal amalgamations of the ‘90s taught us anything it was that removal of the local elected officials that are most accountable to us created less, not more, cooperation. And the jury is still out regarding whether it has saved us any money.
Municipal governance reform is about more than saving money and maintaining services. It is about navigating the substantial challenges that exist now and in the near future. How will we provide opportunity for our young people, deal constructively with rising energy costs, address the challenges of rural transportation and assert our economic will locally, nationally, and globally? We need regional cooperation that does not come at the expense of local accountability.
We are currently governed under a two tiered municipal structure. The counties of Grey and Bruce are associations of the 17 municipalities, towns, townships and one city that lie within their boundaries. Our local municipalities look after services such as roads, water, waste collection and community facilities such as arenas, libraries, and parks. The counties look after broader services such as arterial roads, social services, emergency services, and forests.
In an age of increasing fuel costs and economic challenges, issues are emerging that require a strong cooperative regional approach. Regional economic development, a regional waste management strategy, and transportation of people and goods around the region as well as beyond, will all become increasingly vital to our wellbeing through the next decade. This means that we need our 17 municipalities in Grey and Bruce to work much more closely together on issues of regional importance. We have heard talk, but not much solid direction as to how this cooperation might be achieved.
Here’s my suggestion. Maintain the 17 municipalities to look after their current local responsibilities, directly accountable to local citizens. But combine the two counties of Bruce and Grey into one regional upper tier municipality which would look after the kind of regional issues previously mentioned. In addition to cost savings from the elimination of duplicate services, we get something else... clout.
And if there was ever a time when we needed more clout it’s now. As urban-oriented provincial governments continue to neglect us, we must have a stronger and unified voice at Queen’s Park to stem the tide of closures and consolidations, whether they be schools, jails, or other essential services.
Another important step, and one that is not likely to get much praise from local politicians, is to elect our county/regional representatives separately from our local representatives. Currently, our county councils are made up of members of local councils. While there is some merit to this, too often councilors are not able to separate local concerns from regional ones, leading to conflict between municipalities where cooperation is needed. A separately elected regional council would be tasked specifically with the responsibility of working for the benefit of the region as a whole, leaving the more local concerns in the hands of local councils.
There are clear roles for both local and regional municipal governments in Grey-Bruce. Restructuring our local government to serve us well through the coming challenges needs careful consideration, not knee-jerk reactions to budget challenges. We must be careful what we give up. We may not get it back.