By Mike Williscraft
A sigh of relief from town halls across Niagara could be heard last Friday when it was announced no “top down” restructuring would result from the lengthy regional governance review process.
The review process came to a close Friday when Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, announced a funding program would be implemented to support grassroots level strategies to find efficiencies and no amalgamations would be instituted.
“Municipalities are the level of government closest to the people, but every community is different – one size doesn’t fit all,” said Clark.
During the information gathering process through spring and early summer, the government conducted a review of Ontario’s eight regional governments and Simcoe County. Over 8,500 submissions were received with special advisors, Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling, attending nine in-person sessions and listening to ideas from individuals and organizations on how to improve their local governments.
While nothing structural was decided upon, the provincial government has set aside a fund to support local initiatives.
Up to $143 million has been set aside for municipalities to help them lower costs and improve services for local residents over the long term.
The funding is to allow municipalities to “find smarter, more efficient ways to operate and focus spending on vital programs and services for Ontarians.”
Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff said he was pleased with the ultimate direction taken.
“I am glad it is not a top-down approach and I will be happy to work with mayors to find any way we can streamline to find any local efficiencies,” said Oosterhoff.
“It shows there was no predetermined outcome to the process. There was a lot of open dialogue and I am pleased to see the results.”
Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton – as are other Niagara West mayors – is also happy.
“Basically, they are saying to municipalities ‘you have reached the level of maturity that you can look at your local circumstance and make your own decisions. That is a very import power to be given,” said Easton.
For West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma, he is glad the review found what he believed all along.
“I think we provide municipal service effectively and efficiently,” said Bylsma.
“The assumption is that we haven’t already been looking at service delivery options with our municipal neighbors and that is false. We have excellent relationships with all surrounding governments and the region.”
Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan confirmed Bylsma’s assertion.
“We are going to continue to work with the Region and Niagara West mayors to look for efficiencies of services, procurement and any other ways to cut costs,” said Jordan.
“I suspected they weren’t going to move forward on an amalgamation based on all the other things going on in the province.”