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Province should look to York Region in governance review, says Newmarket mayor

The 'N-6' collaboration has found efficiencies and cost savings that amalgamation and fewer politicians may not, Newmarket council tells the province's special advisors

Bradfordtoday.com
April 15, 2019
Kim Champion

If the Ford administration’s review of Ontario’s 82 upper and lower-tier municipalities is about cost savings and improving services, it should explore the partnership the northern six municipalities of York Region formed more than a decade ago, Mayor John Taylor wrote on behalf of council in a letter to consultants carrying out the regional government review.

Newmarket council unanimously endorsed the two-page letter at its April 8 committee of the whole meeting, addressed to the Municipal Affairs and Housing Ministry’s special advisors, Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling.

The northern six collaboration, commonly referred to as the N-6, is comprised of Newmarket, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, King Township, Whitchurch-Stouffville, and Georgina. Its respective mayors and chief administrative officers meet regularly to monitor its ongoing efforts to purchase and deliver services across northern York Region more efficiently and economically, such as waste management, audit services and professional development.

A major collaboration between Newmarket and Aurora often referred to as an example of efficient service delivery is the merger of the two municipality’s independent fire services into the Central York Fire Services.

“The most interest that Mr. Seiling showed during the interviews and conversations with myself, Mayor Virginia Hackson, and others, was around the N-6 initiatives to find efficiencies and improved service levels and service delivery through cooperation,” Taylor said Monday. “Doing it that way, cooperatively amongst multiple municipalities without going through this gut-wrenching exercise of trying to realign, amalgamate and change everything, this is proven by far the better route to go, and we will continue with that direction. What may come out in the end, is that the N-6 is referenced in the (government’s) final report for the leadership we’ve shown in that area.”

While Taylor and his eight mayoral counterparts from across York Region’s municipalities met informally with the government’s special advisors earlier this year, Newmarket council wanted to get its views formally on the record.

In the letter dated April 3, Taylor writes: “...I feel your work and likely resulting legislation has the potential to considerably affect the nature of local democracy and the provision of services, and I hope our input will be carefully considered. ‚ĶAmalgamations and fewer elected officials may sound good on paper, but it may lead to a weakening of local democracy and local government -- the level that is closest to the people.”

The Regional Municipality of York’s council has not endorsed a position on this issue at this time, spokesperson Patrick Casey said. But in an earlier statement released by York Region chairperson Wayne Emmerson, he welcomed the review and the opportunity to “explore ways to optimize service delivery and reduce costs”.

Many services in the region are already centralized, including police, paramedics, public health, housing, transit, and more.

There is a taskforce of the region’s nine mayors that met and shared their perspectives and opinions on the regional government review, Taylor said.

“There were different points of emphasis and concern, but (the mayors) wanted to be sure that anything that was proposed for change was based upon significant consultation, fact-based analysis and a business case for change, and not on just a will to demonstrate change but a change that is productive and meaningful,” he added.

After winning a majority in the spring 2018 provincial election, the incoming Conservative government vowed to get the province’s debt under control, which this year is forecasted to be about $12.5 billion.

It has since set out to find efficiencies and reduce spending in all corners of government, including reducing the size of Toronto council from 47 councillors to 25, cancelling the first-ever election of regional, or upper-tier government chairpersons, scrapping Ontario’s basic income pilot project, freezing hiring in the public sector, and more.

The Ontario government states that its review of the province’s eight regional municipalities, including York Region, Durham, Halton, Muskoka District, Oxford County, Peel, Waterloo, and Simcoe County, along with their local municipalities, is meant to ensure that municipalities are “working effectively and efficiently, and can continue to provide the vital services that communities depend on.”

“I’m feeling quite confident that we are prepared for what may be, and in speaking with our new CAO (Jag Sharma), I’m confident that you, too, are prepared for what may be,” Councillor Kelly Broome said.

Councillor Christina Bisanz said she appreciates that the town will be on the record with more than just a form letter response to the consultation.

“It’s important that we be on record and have a viewpoint that is expressed and, hopefully, will be acknowledged and recognized in the final outcome,” she said.

Newmarket council also made the following points in its letter:

The special advisors have already met with elected and appointed council members provincewide, municipal associations, and members of the business community.

An online public survey continues until May 21.

You can also share your views by email at regionalgovreview@ontario.ca or by mail to: Local Government Policy Branch, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, 777 Bay St., 13th floor, Toronto, ON, M5G 2E5.

While the request to make a deputation in front of the special advisors closed April 9, they will hold a hearing in Newmarket May 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Regional Municipality of York offices, York Region Seminar Room, 17250 Yonge St.

Similar hearings are set to take place across the province from April 16 to May 17.

A report with recommendations is expected to be submitted to the Ontario government in early summer 2019 and could include specifics as it relates to particular regions and their various needs, challenges, resources, and objectives.