This past January, the Provincial government announced that it was undertaking a Regional Government “review” looking at “governance, decision-making and service delivery functions of all 8 Regional municipalities as well as Simcoe County.” The purported goal of the review is to “help ensure that (the) municipalities are working effectively and efficiently and can continue to provide the vital services that communities depend on.”
The announcement of the review came mere months after the Province cancelled the first election of Regional Chairs in York, Peel, Muskoka and Niagara and returned instead to an appointed Chair in each Region. The move to an elected Chair was itself the result of yet another Provincial government “review” of regional government. As some regional governments – such as Durham and Waterloo – have elected Chairs and others – such as Peel and York – have appointed Chairs, the purpose of the previous Provincial government’s review was an effort to bring consistency to regional governance mechanisms.
The move to an elected Chair was supported at the municipal level in York region, but was not supported by Regional Council itself. But the Province went ahead and made the change to an elected Chair regardless.
As residents know, I fully supported the need for an elected Chair. I believe the residents have the right to choose who leads the Region and the only way to ensure that is through direct election.
That being said, to ensure appropriate, effective and efficient governance, significant change to the structure of local government requires majority support of elected representatives and the residents they serve. It cannot be simply a top down decree from the Province.
There are concerns that the latest Provincial review will do just that – make wholesale changes to local government without the support of the very communities affected. Given the fact that in less than two years we’ve seen two abrupt and completely opposite changes to Regional government structures – appointed to elected Chair and then back again – pushed onto our communities as a result of Provincial governance reviews, there may indeed be cause for concern about the potential outcome of the latest “consultative” process.
However, I do think a review of how we do things at the Regional level is a necessary process – it’s why we have been doing just that. Prior to the announcement by the Province, York Region Council began a process of review, looking at ways to deliver services to our residents and businesses more efficiently. I have long advocated for the need for a Regional fire service – and it is one of the efficiencies we are considering.
All elected governments have a responsibility to ensure that they provide the representation their constituents expect – responsive, respectful governance that provides the best possible service at the lowest possible cost. And the best way to achieve that outcome is through collaboration; all levels of government working together in support of the communities we serve.