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Benefits of amalgamation a myth

Open letter to Doug Ford, So your newly-elected government in Queen’s Park is embarking on another round of municipal amalgamations. Shades of Mike Harris. Funny how it never came up in your election campaign.

Open letter to Doug Ford, 

So your newly-elected government in Queen’s Park is embarking on another round of municipal amalgamations. Shades of Mike Harris. Funny how it never came up in your election campaign. 

There is an old wisdom that the more local the service, the more local the government level that supplies the service should be. For example, does it make sense that the federal government should supply dog catchers and the town should have armed forces? 

Previous generations of Ontario residents enjoyed small and close political governance, supplied by politicians that were local, knowable, and approachable.

Starting primarily with the Mike Harris government, there was an idea that your neighbours who wanted to serve on council, compensated not much more than a volunteer, are no longer appropriate to govern. Why? Conservative wisdom that there are too many councillors? 

By the way, I saw Doug Ford in the supermarket the other day and asked him about the noise problem at the property just down the street, and last week I cornered Justin Trudeau as he was stopped for gas at Gales and had a good chat about the potholes on my road. Get the idea? 

I only wish I could chat with them about things of interest as a citizen but I know I will never talk to either of them as a citizen. I can talk to their government’s voice mail, I think it is option 5, then option 4, then option 8; and I get a very nice computer who might even thank me for my views. I especially love getting my rights as a citizen exercised with the lovely sentiment; ‘Please hold, your views are important to us.’ Important enough to keep me on hold for half an hour.

Do we really need really big government for all aspects of our lives as citizens? Doug’s mantra, like Mike before him, sounds so appealing, doesn’t it? Who can’t get behind fewer politicians. Except, is your neighbour, who now serves on council, really an overpaid politician? 

A councillor in NOTL make annually approximately $22,000 all in, including benefits. The salary and benefits of NOTL council in total is about $240,000, council salaries being about.005 per cent. That’s nine citizens working their buns off for us, out of their home offices, most likely the kitchen table.

A ‘megacity’ of Niagara would have at least 15 councillors, with salaries in at least the $150,000 range, plus government offices, computers, assistants, and staff, with offices, computers, and salaries around 100K. 

Figure on at least $300,000 for a professional councillor, including staff, offices, and equipment, and that’s on the very low side.

Doug is quoted saying 136 politicians is comical. To think that a City of Niagara council with professional councillors, their staff and offices is the cheaper route is hilarious. Bigger cities also have more levels of higher paid managers. 

Fewer politicians does not mean less cost or better service or better fiscal responsibility. I actually like having a level of government that has politicians I might see in my neighbourhood, who get where I live when I talk to them about a local matter. 

From a different point of view, let’s look at the entire governance in our country. We have essentially three to four levels of government in Canada. 

At the top, the federal level, with foreign affairs, trade, armed forces, national coordination and some wealth distribution between regions, health care funding and policy, if not delivery. Sounds like a good place to leave that; Fort George won’t likely hold enough troops and jets for today’s defence requirements, so, no NOTL army. 

At the bottom, we have Niagara-on-the-Lake town council and Niagara Regional council, who share service delivery on the basis of the creed that if it can be effectively delivered by the Town, then it should stay there, but if it is more efficient to share the service delivery with other local towns, then move it up to the Region.

Seems to make sense. Police, garbage sites, major roads, at the Region, the aforementioned dog catcher, water, sewage, sidewalks, parks, recreation, library, planning, fire, building inspection, and really, almost every other government service, stays at the Town. 

The Province set a curriculum for education, but that’s run by school boards that most people have totally lost touch with, and even that has a significant portion of funding by the taxes raised by the Town. Even services not really related to our properties, like welfare, children’s aid, and public housing, which used to be provincial, has been pushed down. 

Okay, then what about the middle government? Yeah, the Province. What do they do? They issue drivers licences, and those annoying licence plate stickers we have to line up to get every year, oversee the delivery of healthcare, (how’s that working?), and, oh yeah, they tell the towns and regions how to deliver and pay for all the services we need, while they keep most of the tax money generated. 

For those of you who can buy a new car once in awhile, the federal/provincial HST on said car is about as much as an average home’s annual property tax.

That property tax includes all town, regional, and local authority revenues.

A big chunk of your local tax bill, about a third, is handed directly to the Province for education.

So, all the local multi-tier services, and a large chunk of education, are supported by the relatively small property tax, including roads; while the Province gets all sales taxes, their portion of your income tax, a chunk of the property tax, hidden gas tax at the pumps, booze and smokes taxes, and on and on.  So Doug, take a wider view. Toronto is bigger in economic strength than most Canadian provinces, and many other Ontario cities aren’t far behind that status.

If you are really concerned about saving taxpayers money, do we really need the Province? We will always need a federal government for defence, and trying to make sense out of and deal with Donald Trump and other such lovely chores.

We will always need towns and cities to deliver all the services, including the aforementioned dog catcher.

If times are evolving such that we need fewer semi-volunteer politicians like Martha or Bill next road over, and must have a City of Niagara with a dozen or so professional politicians with big salaries and lots and lots of staff, and great big city departments, with lots of layers of managers, and with lots of phone menus spoken by the lovely computer voice, then I’m positive that same evolutionary process can and should eliminate the Provincial level of government.

Surely those professional politicians in the new and improved city states, with their big salaries, and big city departments, don’t need a province to tell them how to deliver their services? I think they have by now figured out that the plow truck should be pointed straight down the road and every once in a while the aforementioned dog catcher will need a new net. 

If this is really about making things better and cheaper for Ontarians, then do the honourable thing Doug, and halt this renewed charge into more ‘megacities’ and instead consider the value output of the Province in the study. 

On the other hand, if it’s really about tax grabs from towns and cities who have managed to put considerable reserves aside for rainy days and future infrastructure needs, and more downloading, then I presume you’ll just stay the course. 

I guess I won’t get to talk to you Doug, or Justin for that matter, once in awhile at the supermarket, but it’s still nice to have the prospect of having a little chat with Lord Mayor Betty while picking over the oranges. Enjoy it while you can folks. 

Keith McNenly