By Mike Williscraft
With about 50 in Beamsville and 35 in Fonthill, the only two public meetings scheduled of any kind regarding regional government reform drew lack lustre attention last week.
Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff hosted the two sessions – Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning.
In January, Municipal Affair Minister Steven Clark announced the appointment of Ken Seiling and Michael Fenn to oversee a review of 82 municipalities in Ontario.
No open houses or public meetings have been planned as part of the input gathering process. Instead, the only manner in which the public can have input is by going to a government website.
Seiling and Fenn are making rounds to the municipalities under the microscope to speak with elected officials and key stakeholders, but not the public in general.
“I wanted to hear what ideas people had,” said Oosterhoff of his reasoning to host the meetings.
“I heard everything from having 12 municipalities and no Region to scrap all and go to one Niagara. What I can say is nothing has been predetermined.”
Former long-time Lincoln mayor Ray Konkle, who attended Friday’s meeting, does not share that optimism.
“Sam denied that Ford has
already made up his mind but others in the room said that he had appeared on TV and spoke out against the number of politicians already,” said Konkle, noting the three minutes allotted at the meeting were not sufficient time to cover such a far-reaching topic.
“The feeling was do not combine or change the communities. One big city i.e. take over the region would not work because the haves would take from the have-nots. The number of politicians can certainly be reduced but some people said –and I know this – the cost of those extra politicians is infinitesimal.”
The limited saving of reducing politicians is a generally accepted fact. This leaves many wondering about the motivation behind Premier Doug Ford’s preponderance toward municipal reform.
For long-time Progressive Conservative Party insider and former Grimsby resident Ken Zeise, he, too, does not see the rationale.
“It’s a shame every couple of decades that, sadly, the party I’m a member of takes an axe, or threatens to take an axe to small town governance. If people wanted the efficiencies in Toronto they’d move there,” said Zeise, who also attended Friday’s session in Beamsville.
“Sam was clear that neither he nor Minister Clark have a position on the Niagara file. The comments were overwhelmingly against merging municipalities. No one spoke to keep the region in tact. Three, including myself, cited the failure of Hamilton ‘s amalgamation during the Harris years.”
With little upside, Zeise said local municipal governments should be left alone.
“Life is full of compromises and when you live in a small town you’re probably OK with spending a buck or two extra (per month) for local accountability on local issues that a town or two away could careless about,” said Zeise.
“Why is this such a challenge for provincial PCs? When did we start this hate for small rural governments? Hamilton’s amalgamation was a disaster and we lost a good MPP and Riding over it.”
“I am hoping for the best, but not holding my breath.”
Grimsby Reg. Coun. Wayne Fertich was also in attendance Friday.
From his discussions at Region, with residents and hearing the discussion Friday, his conclusion, “I have come away suggesting to the region there doesn’t seem to be any one thing to hang your hat on.”
He said many of the comments were about government simply not working, citing recent issues with garbage pick-up as an example.
At Monday night’s Grimsby council meeting, Fertich strongly suggested the Town’s opinion be submitted to Niagara Region of inclusion in the report going forward to Seiling and Fenn.
“It is really important that Grimsby’s thoughts and ideas are sent to the Region,” said Fertich.
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