Jeff Green | Jul 10, 2019
All has been quiet on the Queen’s Park front in recent weeks, at least as far as creating a new template for municipal governance in the province is concerned. A review of how regional governance is working in municipalities across southern Ontario is ongoing and that may lead to some changes. As to what the provincial government is planning for Eastern and Northern Ontario, particularly for small, rural municipalities, is not the least bit clear.
There have been hints, however. Changes in administration are still being planned for services such as Public Health, Paramedic Services, Libraries, and Child Care, which are all overseen by municipalities and partially funded with municipal dollars. And there is a clear direction from the government, they want to see larger and larger entities covering larger swathes of territory.
In March, there was one-time funding allotment for small, rural municipalities in the spring. It came with no strings attached but was earmarked to be used to find efficiencies in the delivery of municipal services, with no indication about what those inefficiencies might be. There is every reason to believe that rural municipalities will be the next sector that will be addressed, and the push for larger entities is the likely outcome.
The time frame during which such changes are likely to be initiated is now pretty narrow. If it is going happen before the next provincial election, we will likely know something about it before the end of the year, if not earlier.
In the context of change, there is another question that should be asked, at least in Frontenac County, and that is whether we are well served by the municipal arrangements that are currently in place.
When the current system was established in 1998, responsibility for the delivery of municipal services was split between the Frontenac Townships (roads and bridges, building and development, recreation, finance, waste, etc) and the City of Kingston (social services: child care, Ontario Works, Housing, etc) with ancillary institutions such as KFL&A Public Health, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library and others operating at arms length by boards appointed by the municipalities. The Frontenac Management Board (FMB), overseen by the four Frontenac Mayors, was set up in order to facilitate all of the relationships between the townships, the City of Kingston, and those boards. It also operated a long-term care facility, Fairmount Home, and later won the contract to provide Paramedic Services in Kingston and Frontenac.
The FMB then renamed itself Frontenac County and has taken on some of the land use planning and IT functions for the Frontenac Townships, and has established a small economic development department.
The fact that our municipalities do not deal in any direct way with services aimed at alleviating poverty, at keeping people housed and healthy, and supporting our aging population, makes us something less than a full-blown municipality.
We have been lucky enough in Frontenac County to have two community-based agencies, Rural Frontenac Community Services and Southern Frontenac Community Services, providing the kinds of supports that people rely upon, but each of these agencies is facing constraints from an increasingly fickle provincial government. In place of the moral support and minimal funding they receive from the municipalities they serve, a true partnership needs to emerge to ensure they can provide the kinds of services that we decide are necessary, instead of the services that the provincial government decides to fund.
In order to comply with the Policing Act, Frontenac County requires a Community Safety and Well-Being Plan. The Frontenac Townships are working together on this, and are setting up an advisory committee to develop the plan. This exercise could result in an empty shell of a plan, or one that starts to expand the scope of our municipal services.
Perhaps the Province of Ontario will decide how our municipal future will unfold, perhaps not.
But it is high time that we begin a conversation about developing a comprehensive political structure devoted to the needs of all Frontenac County residents. In my view, a single Frontenac Township is necessary to take on the needs of the 28,000 permanent residents and almost as many seasonal residents. By pooling all of our physical, administrative, and human resources, we can begin to serve the particular needs of our residents. If the opportunity arises, we would be in a position to make a case to the provincial government for the establishment of such a political body.
The status quo is not a solution any more, and if we do not make an effort to build our own future, based on our shared history and the land that we occupy, or someone from the outside is certain to do it for us.