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Bulletin No. 02, December 1999
December, 1999 -
LOCAL SELF GOVERNMENT - BULLETIN No.2 - December 1999
The purpose of this public service bulletin is to focus debate on the need to increase local self government in Canada and to help local communities achieve more autonomy. Our web site is http://www.localselfgovt.org.
This second bulletin prints out to 4 pages and includes:
1. The attack on local government in Ottawa, Hamilton and Sudbury.
2. Three years later, residents of the larger Halifax are even more upset about amalgamation.
3. Professor Andrew Sancton argues that globalization is not a good rationale for amalgamation.
4. An invitation to subscribe to this bulletin and to join in our discussion space at http://www.localselfgovt.org. Neither the bulletin nor the web site involve financial obligations of any kind to subscribers or visitors.
1. Attacking Local Government in Ontario
The Ontario government is again destroying the legitimacy and powers of local government.
In October the province commissioned reports on restructuring local government in Ottawa, Hamilton and Sudbury. All three studies, released in late November, recommend that all local government be thrown into trusteeship for a 12-month period in each area, while provincial appointees dismember those governments and their assets, and push them into the existing regional structure in each city. The exercise is a complete triumph for regionalism, probably the least popular form of government seen in Ontario in the past three decades.
The reports prepared for each of the three areas reach the same conclusions, namely that the province should:
a) abolish local municipalities and strengthen the regional government;
b) require spending cuts through staff reductions and contracting out of services;
c) establish a transition board which “assumes the powers of a council” thereby ending the ability of elected councilors to govern the municipalities.
d) require the provincial appointees on the transition board to hire senior staff for the new regional government , establish staff complements, and create departmental structures.
Tony Clement, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, introduced legislation on December 6 to implement these recommendations and promised it would be passed before Christmas 1999. Significant opposition is apparent in Hamilton where, just before last June’s election, a senior advisor to Premier Harris told reporters with the Hamilton Spectator that restructuring of the city would not be proposed. The two locally elected MPPs have promised to fight their party vigorously on this issue. One Harris Cabinet minister from Ottawa has publicly expressed his trepidation about moving forward in that area.
Details recommended for Ottawa, the fourth largest census metropolitan area in Canada, with a population of 750,000, typify what is transpiring. The eleven municipalities - seven urban, four rural - will be abolished. The 18 regional wards will continue (two suburban councilors will each have two votes, so the weight of each suburban resident will be double that of an urban resident), with the Ottawa regional headquarters becoming the new city hall. The new Council will not be permitted to create an executive committee. Councillors will be given unfettered control in his/her ward over: appointments to community boards, garbage collection, road and sidewalk maintenance, libraries, renting ice rinks, cultural events, parks and recreation. Annual cost savings are said to be $125 million, of which half will be achieved through reducing staff by 561 full time positions. It is recommended legislation should include a requirement that $750 million must be reduced from the budget by the year 2003.
A provincially appointed transition board will “assume the powers of a council for the purposes of running the new city.” The board will monitor and control the budgets of the existing municipalities, impose freezes on salaries and positions, implement salary changes and collective agreements, reassign staff, negotiate with unions, contract out services, investigate and implement alternative delivery mechanisms and hire someone to carry out the next municipal election.
The consultant says this package “meets the principles of effectiveness, efficiency and accountability,” presumably since locally elected councillors have been usurped by provincial appointees. Orwell would immediately understand this inversion of normal English usage.
Meanwhile, provincial officials can’t seem to leave Toronto, forcibly amalgamated in 1997, alone. As part of the same omnibus bill that amalgamates Ottawa, Hamilton,. Sudbury, restructures local government in Haldeman-Norfolk, and amends the Municipal Act, the government is reducing the size of the Toronto Council from 58 to 45, and realigning ward boundaries to obliterate remnants of the former municipalities. Clement has confirmed that no public hearings on the bill (which is several hundred pages long) will be permitted.
The reports commissioned by the Ontario Government can be found at the following web sites:
The legislation will be posted at http://ontla.on.ca/Documents/documentsindex.htm
2. Residents of a larger Halifax do not like their new city.
In 1996 a single tier regional municipality (Halifax Regional Municipality) was created by amalgamating the cities of Halifax and Dartmouth, the town of Bedford and the county of Halifax. The new municipality consists of 2,500 square miles and includes not only downtown Halifax, but farmland, wilderness and Peggy’s Cove.
Dale Poel, of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University, presented a paper on his latest findings about citizen attitudes to government in Halifax at the Canadian Regional Science Association’s annual meeting, recently held in Montreal. The survey is a co-operative effort of the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Amalgamation Project of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie, funded by the Donner Canadian Foundation.
Poel said the survey indicates that 66% of citizens are opposed to amalgamation as of May/June 1999, three years after amalgamation took place, and of those, 39% are “strongly opposed.” Poel says the opposition has actually increased since a 1997 HRM survey and a pre-amalgamation (1995) survey in which only 42 per cent were opposed to amalgamation.
For many service areas, citizens believe the service levels have remained the same following amalgamation. Some citizens, however, pointed to deteriorating services. For instance, almost a quarter of citizens think playgrounds, parks, and recreational service programs are worse; about half think snow ploughing, street and road paving and repair are worse. Protective services (fire and police) are almost consistently seen as staying the same and are also rated highly. The best gain was for `refuse, recycling, and organics collection’ where 47 per cent reported a better level of service, although 21 per cent saw the service as worse. At a more general level, most (56 per cent) disagreed with the suggestion they were getting good service value for the property taxes they pay.
Poel stresses these results remain preliminary. He expects to finalize and publish the conference paper on `regional thinking’ in early 2000. When available, this report will be mentioned on this site.
3. Restructure local government for globalization?
Andrew Sancton, professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario answers, Probably not.
“Many Canadian politicians and commentators assume that municipal government somehow represents (or should represent) city regions in globalization competition,” writes Sancton. But it doesn’t make much sense. The critical factors for new enterprises, says Sancton, are access to customers and suppliers, political stability, labour force skills, corporate and personal income tax levels, and proximity to good ski hills – all key factors about which municipal government can do very little, if anything.
Sancton dismisses the argument that amalgamations should be undertaken to “create a critical mass,” stating that “nobody who has studied the competitiveness of global cities has ever suggested that city regions with fewer and more populous municipal governments are better off than those with more or less populous municipalities.” Sancton notes that the Chicago city region contains more than 400 municipalities, and that in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Tony Blair has reinstituted an upper tier level of local government in London, a city of several dozen municipalities.
Sancton’s article was published the November 1999 issue of “Policy Options,” (Volume 20, No. 9, pp 54-8.) It is available on our web site http://www.localselfgovt.org at the Library tab.
4. Subscribe to the bulletin
This bulletin is sent to more than 900 individuals involved directly or indirectly in local government in Canada. If you have not already done so, we invite you to subscribe to the bulletin, by going to http://www.localselfgovt.org and following the simple instructions. More information about the sponsors of the site, and members of the advisory group, may be found on the same website.
We appreciate your comments, your feedback, and items of interest that you wish to share with us and others who visit the web site.
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