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News - Miscellaneous - 11 Jul 2020

News Item 20 of 1504 

Miscellaneous: 11 Jul 2020
Post-pandemic Waterloo Region must change

This week Waterloo Region Chair Karen Redman issued a stark warning of what the future holds for this community unless the federal and Ontario governments deliver quick, emergency aid.

Tax hikes, service-fee increases, cuts to essential services — they’re all up for grabs, she said, as not only the regional government but the seven other local municipalities struggle to cope with the financial devastation wreaked by COVID-19. And all the time, they must avoid the deficits forbidden by law.

That explains why local governments from this region, having bled tax and fee revenues, have banded together with municipalities across Canada in calling on the federal government to come through with a $10-billion pandemic bailout for local governments.

But while there’s an overwhelming case that they should be tossed this financial lifesaver — there must be strings attached to it. Now is the time to do things differently. Now we should embrace what Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, the four townships and the region itself have consistently and stubbornly rejected — a radical overhaul of local government.

The way to achieve this can be found in a special report that was written last year for Ontario Premier Doug Ford and recommended ways to save money while improving life for millions of Ontarians.

After touring the province for months, former Waterloo Region chair Ken Seiling and former senior Ontario bureaucrat Michael Fenn handed Ford a blueprint for transforming 82 upper- and lower-tier municipal governments — including the ones in this region — in a positive way.

By the time Ford got the report, however, his popularity had plunged. Aware that municipal reform would rile many vested interests, Ford beat a hasty retreat. The report in its entirety was kept secret.

It was wrong for Ford to deny the public information they’d paid for and was in their interest. Suppressing it further would compound that error. While The Record recently received a $960 bill from the provincial government so it can gain access to just part of the report under Ontario’s Freedom of Information law, Ford should show some courage, stop his stonewalling and release it all. The Record will continue to seek disclosure of this report on behalf of taxpayers in this region and throughout Ontario.

Aren’t Canadians constantly being told that life after COVID-19 will never be the same? Whether it’s enhanced child care, improved nursing homes, a universal basic income or a new agenda to stop climate change, we’re hearing the country we rebuild should be better than the one we had.

The challenge is finding how to fund this new Canada. The nation is mired in the worst recession in generations while the federal government is on track to run the biggest annual deficit in Canadian history — $343.2 billion. Moving forward, every precious public dollar must be spent as efficiently and effectively as possible. The report Ford is keeping hidden could help accomplish this.

Given that Waterloo Region is well enough served by a single police service, why does it need seven fire departments? Why is it in the best interest of local residents — as opposed to local politicians and civil servants — to have four library systems, eight sewer and water departments, four building departments and at least five economic development departments in a single region?

Amalgamation — that long-dreaded word in some circles — is not the only choice. But the report Premier Ford is sitting on could surely offer other concrete solutions for the financial and service bind that local governments in this region and across Ontario are caught in.

If they want help now from Ottawa and Queen’s Park, these local governments should help themselves by embracing, not fighting, reform. And Ford should insist they do.

By Record EditorialWaterloo Region Record/AA

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