By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
It appears Durham Region will avoid the fallout of a number of sweeping changes announced by Premier Doug Ford last week.
On Friday (July 27), the newly-elected Conservative government announced plans to cancel public elections for the positions of regional chair in York, Peel, and Muskoka. Also, the number of city council seats in Toronto will be cut nearly in half from 47 to 25.
In a statement released by Durham Region, it is expected local elections will proceed as planned this October.
“Our understanding is the municipal electoral process presently underway in the Region of Durham is not affected by this provincial initiative. The elections of regional chair and council will proceed based on existing ward and area municipal boundaries,” the release states.” The residents of Durham can be assured that they will elect their council this fall based on the wards that their communities have opted to put in place.”
Ford also announced his government intends to undertake a review of regional governments in Ontario.
Current regional chair and CEO Gerri Lynn O’Connor, who is not running in this fall’s election, responded to Ford’s actions.
“In the Region of Durham, we are proud of the effectiveness and efficiency of the services we provide to our communities—essential services like policing, ambulance, public health, long-term care, safe drinking water, sewage treatment, roads, transit and waste management,” O’Connor says in the media statement. “The regional level of government provides these services in Durham because they are best planned, funded, and delivered on a broader geographic scale than by individual municipalities. Working together, we avoid duplication of effort, reap economies of scale and offer more equitable, higher quality services to the regional community.”
According to O’Connor, regional council has “proactively restructured services and council structure on multiple occasions to achieve greater effectiveness and ensure the needs of our residents are met.”
The former Uxbridge mayor said when the Mike Harris-led Conservative government of 1995 to 2003 downloaded services to municipalities, that “regional council and staff worked diligently and creatively to manage the financial gap and continue to support our residents while maintaining a strong financial position.”
“Many Ontario municipalities have still not recovered from the impact of downloading in several key areas,” O’Connor added.
The regional chair went on to state that service downloading and a lack of or reduced funding for transit and roads has contributed to “backlogs and gridlock.”
She also squarely placed the responsibility of “unaddressed social housing needs” referred to by Ford in his July 27 press conference on the federal and provincial governments and questioned the handling of the elimination of Ontario’s cap and trade program.
“The new provincial government has cancelled funding for various programs that were targeted to improve the energy efficiency of social housing stock, to expand transit and to make our infrastructure more resilient to climate change,” O’Connor said. “Yet we have no indication of how, or if, the Premier plans to replace this funding to municipalities generated by the cap and trade program.”
The veteran regional councillor called on the Conservative government to soundly plan for the future.
“I was a member of regional council the last time the province enacted change of this magnitude. I urge the provincial government to undertake the kind of the consultation that is necessary on this important issue.”
Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark claims if passed, the plans could save taxpayers as much as $25 million.
Neither Ford or Clark announced when their party intends to table the proposed legislation in Queen’s Park.