BY ROSS CADRANEL
By this time next year, the regions of Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville could share the same name.
With regards to amalgamation, Oakville Mayor Rob Burton told the Sheridan Sun, “The people of Ontario’s local municipalities democratically chose their local representation – cutting local politicians cuts the public’s access to local governments by making them bigger and more remote.”
This January, the province of Ontario announced that it would be conducting a Regional Government Review to ensure that municipalities are working effectively and efficiently. The municipalities Halton (Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville) were some of the regions being reviewed. If the advisory board deems it necessary, it could do away with the two-tier municipal system and these four municipalities could be amalgamated to form one bigger, single municipality.
A few of the advisory board’s goals to ensure optimal regional governance and service delivery include:
- Making it easier for residents to access municipal services
- Creating effective local services
- Reducing the duplication of services
- Saving costs
The review was conducted over summer of this year and the reports were finalized and concluded on September 30th. The announcement of what is going to happen with these municipalities is expected to happen after the federal election this October.
Shortly after the Regional Government Review was announced, many citizens made it clear that they had no interest in having their municipalities amalgamated. A local community campaign called “We Love Oakville” was started to present locals with facts about the negative side-effects of amalgamation. Its website states that the bottom-line consequences of amalgamation for Oakville would include higher taxes, service reductions, and a loss of the local voice.
For Oakvillians who wanted to show their support, We Love Oakville gave away lawn signs to those who requested them from the website (signs are no longer available). Many of these signs can still be spotted around town.
Shortly after the signs opposing amalgamation showed up on lawns, signs that supported amalgamation appeared as well that read, “Oakville’s Great! Amalgamate.” These signs almost seem like they are parodying the original signs with a similar design and a tagline “We Love Oakville Too.” We couldn’t find out where these signs were coming from but they did have a link to Ontario.ca. The Ontario government has confirmed that it did not provide these signs and has no affiliation with them.
These two signs were found on the same street, about 300 meters apart.
Mayor Burton has been against amalgamation since the announcement of the regional review. In a recent town hall meeting Burton stressed that Oakville would lose its heart and soul if amalgamated, saying, “I believe that community engagement is the heart and soul and backbone and brain of community health and it’s the reason why Oakville is Oakville.” Burton also went into detail about the differences between Oakville, Milton, Burlington and Halton Hills.
Burton’s full Governance Review Submission can be found here. The mayor of Milton feels similarly and strongly endorses Halton’s current two-tier municipality.
Oakville Chief of Staff Jorge Gomez, said, “To sum up you would lose your local identity and representation, decrease the quality of services and taxes would go up.”
When we contacted the provided email address on the official Ontario Regional Government Review website for a statement on the process, we promptly received an email that read:
“Thank you for your email on the review of regional governments. Please note that the comment period closed May 21, 2019. From March 13 to May 21, 2019, we asked you to help inform our review of eight regional municipalities and Simcoe County, and their lower-tiers. For more information on the review, please check the regional government review website.”
So, we went to the official Ontario website and had to fill out a contact form to hear back from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. After sending that form, we received the following message:
We eventually got in touch with Praveen Senthinathan, media relations spokesperson for the ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He told us, “Our government believes it’s important to work together with municipal governments to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are respected, and that they can serve their residents as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
Senthinathan also mentioned that the special advisors “attended nine in-person sessions and listened to almost 100 individuals and organizations present their ideas on how to improve their local governments.”