When the Conservative government led by Premier Bill Davis established a number of regional governments in the mid-1970s, it was done with the ambition of streamlining services and cutting costs.
Many residents were unhappy at the time, and it nearly cost Davis the next election.
But as with most political decisions, as time went on, the new Regional Municipality of Durham was accepted and became an inherent aspect of life in the area.
But in the late 1990s, another Premier, Mike Harris, did away with Ontario’s largest and oldest regional government in Metropolitan Toronto.
Regional municipalities in Hamilton, Ottawa, and Sudbury were done away with as well.
Nearly 20 smaller municipalities were merged to create The City of Kawartha Lakes, now the second biggest municipality in terms of size in the province.
The rationale of these moves was to reduce the number of municipal politicians and staff, lower taxes, remove levels of government and create more efficient municipal structures.
These amalgamations were fiercely opposed by some, especially in Toronto and the Kawartha Lakes, but little could be done to stop Harris’ plans.
Some 20 years later, the Ford government is once again looking at the role of regional government in the province – and it’s about time.
There is always a need to review what is working, and what isn’t.
Although this government has shown it has no qualms about making big changes, this doesn’t necessarily mean we will soon be living in “The City of Durham.”
But the province needs to do a thorough review, and not just slap together some meaningless consultation.
The PCs can hopefully learn from some of the errors made in the past when it comes to the role of regional government.
Fewer politicians may make some happy, but over the past 20 years, local municipalities have seen more responsibilities downloaded to them and greater funding gaps, putting municipal services and infrastructure at risk, and pressure on residential taxpayers.
Amalgamation for the sake of amalgamation is not the answer.