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thistleclub Feb 9, 2015 5:00 PM

...or maybe #Suburboboros.

Either way, historical perspective on perennial council woes via Ajay Sharma’s 2007 CPSA presentation The Paradox of Amalgamation: An Analysis of Municipal Restructuring Practices in Ontario:

From their inception, regional governments were highly controversial and unpopular. Terry Cooke (2003), the former Regional Chair of Hamilton-Wentworth Chairman, argues that the two-tier system of regional government confused lines of political accountability, or in other words, who was responsible for what. The effectiveness of regional government in Hamilton-Wentworth was also undermined by territorial or parochial politics:

“The Hamilton-Wentworth system was dysfunctional from the very beginning. The main problem was that the City of Hamilton, because of its high proportion of the regional population, always had more than half the seats on regional council. In the early years of Hamilton-Wentworth, suburban members would sometimes thwart the city by walking out, thereby preventing a quorum” (Sancton, 2000a: 143).

The creation of Hamilton-Wentworth in 1974 demonstrated the considerable problems of merging city and countryside. If the new central-city region was relatively strong, outlying areas felt that effective regional government would inevitably serve only that city’s interest.

Dissatisfaction with regional government manifested itself in the form of several committees and reports that focused on how to address the structural deficiencies of the system. In 1978, the Hamilton-Wentworth Review Commission (Hamilton-Wentworth, 1978: 40-41) assessed the state of local government in the region and concluded:

“…the present institutions do not fulfill our criterion of a government that can respond to the needs and desires of its citizens. In our view, there are three basic problems: there are serious conflicts between city and non-city politicians, which interfere with and retard the development of policies to serve the citizens of the Region; the structure blurs accountability and hinders accessibility, with the result that it cannot respond to the citizens easily; and finally, the structure of the system results in resources not being used as efficiently as possible.”

The Commission concluded that a new single-tier City of Wentworth should replace the region and its six lower-tier municipalities. Not surprisingly, this recommendation was rejected by the province because the region had only been operating for four years. In 1993, Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Council directed Regional Chairman R.J. Whynott to conduct a review of the region’s political structure and report back with recommendations for consideration. Whynott’s report (Hamilton-Wentworth, 1994: 7-10) identified the regional government’s indirect electoral system as the key impediment to effective municipal governance across Hamilton-Wentworth. When faced with the reality that councilors are elected to council by voters in their local municipality or ward, it is difficult if not impossible to consider regional issues without a “local” bias – parochialism, argued Whynott, played a major undermining role at the regional level. Not unlike previous governance reports, Whynott called for a task force to design a single-tiered regional government. The report and its recommendation, however, fell into abeyance and no immediate action was taken.

The election of Terry Cooke to the position of Regional Chairman in 1994 further heightened the profile of amalgamation. The central message of Cooke’s election platform was similar to that of former City of Kingston Mayor Gary Bennett; the status quo is not an option. Under Cooke’s leadership, the Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Council approved the formation of the Constituent Assembly in February 1995. The Assembly was directed to examine the existing municipal government system and to evaluate whether change to the existing system was necessary, and if so, what options exist for providing such change (Hamilton-Wentworth, 1996: i). The Assembly recommended a restructuring of the six area municipalities and the region into one municipality. This option, supported by the City of Hamilton and the District Chamber of Commerce, was rejected by the five area municipalities and the regional council on July 5, 1996 (Hamilton Spectator, July 6, 1996: A1).

With relations between the regions municipalities reaching a point of crisis, local MPPs and Hamilton City Council sought to resolve the issue with the province’s assistance. The province, however, was not willing to facilitate action at this time. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Al Leach stated:

It would be presumptuous of me at this stage to say I’m sending somebody in to sort out your problems. They’ve been debating this issue for months and months and months. I don’t think it would be reasonable for them to expect me to make a 24-hour knee-jerk decision (Poling, October 3, 1996: A1)

In somewhat of a turnaround, the province asked Gardner Church – who had been instrumental in achieving a settlement in the protracted negotiation in the Greater Kingston Area – to serve as a conciliator to try to bring the competing municipalities together. The Province, while not yet publicly unequivocal on the fate Hamilton-Wentworth began to take a greater public interest in proceedings….

Read it in full here.

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