Jeff Green | Apr 24, 2019
Doug Ford has never been accused of being subtle, and during the first 9 months of his mandate as premier, signals about the government’s intention to change provincially delivered and/or funded services in Ontario have been crystal clear, as is their commitment to exercising the Province’s authority to force change onto Ontario municipalities.
One of his first acts was to cut the number of politicians in the City of Toronto, and he did it in the middle of a municipal election campaign, demonstrating not only his disdain for Toronto City Hall, but also that the Province of Ontario does indeed have the authority to make whatever changes it wants to make, to both the size and the mandate of municipal councils.
Questions about whether that zeal for change will extend to rural Ontario governance, are now being answered. Education and healthcare are being revamped, as well as the makeup of larger municipalities, as is the funding for services that are partially funded by the Province but delivered by municipalities. The only reasonable conclusion would seem to be that municipalities, as they exist today, will no longer exist by the time the next provincial election rolls around.
As we have been seeing recently in regards to Paramedic Services and Public Health, and now Conservation Authorities and Libraries, the balance of funding for these operations between the Province and municipalities is going to change.
The unexpected one-time funding to rural Ontario municipalities that was announced a few weeks ago, and the language around seeking efficiency that came with that funding, is no coincidence. The decision to create much larger entities to deliver emergency services and Public Health, both municipally based services, are a further indication that sooner than later larger municipalities will be forced upon us.
For Frontenac County does that mean a single municipality to replace North, Central and South Frontenac is inevitable? Perhaps so, but at least two other possibilities are in play. One would be to break up the county system and create municipalities along east-west corridors. That makes some sense in terms of established travel patterns, but it would be complicated and difficult to pull off and possibly even more costly to run. It will likely be easier to stick with the way services already flow.
I can see a single municipality of Kingston-Frontenac, with services being centred in Kingston as a distinct possibility, or even Kingston Frontenac, Lennox and Addington becoming a single municipality. A basket of services for Frontenac County residents are already delivered by the City of Kingston, and it would be easier to extend that pattern than to start from scratch.
There is every chance that when the announcement about impending change comes from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, it will be similar to what is being done with healthcare. There will be a process set out for different municipalities to work out new arrangements, based on a recommended average population size to be served by these new municipalities. It could be 50,000 people, it could be 100,000 people, or it could be more.
Under that scenario, proposing a single tier for Frontenac County with 25,000 people, would not be acceptable. A single Frontenac township will not satisfy the Ford government’s desires.
One way or another, rural Ontario will either be parceled up and tacked on to larger towns and cities, or else the new rural municipalities will be so vast that there will be little or no cohesion between disparate communities within a single municipality.
Our current Municipal Councils can’t really address this possible future because it is still speculative. They will know what their real options are only when word comes down from on high. Meanwhile it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to continue on as they have been, discussing how to make their operations more efficient as if the future will resemble the past.
Recent conversations at the Frontenac County level about a new county office, and a proposal to set up a virtual roads system in order to attract more provincial grants, seem odd in the context of the coming changes, very much a ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ scenario.
Sometime soon, the municipal ship will hit the provincial iceberg, and there will be no advance notice.