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Durham chair says public input key to regional review

Province says review will improve access to services

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Regional Chair John Henry hopes Premier Doug Ford and the PC party will include the public in the review of regional municipalities.

The provincial government recently announced it will be reviewing regional municipalities, such as Durham, which could lead to a shakeup of how regional municipalities take shape around Ontario.

Other regional municipalities to be reviewed include  Halton, York, Waterloo, Niagara, Peel, Muskoka District, and Oxford County, as well as their lower-tier municipalities.

The provincial government says that the review will make it easier for residents and businesses to access municipal services, as well as to aid in delivering efficient and effective local services that respect taxpayers money.

Ford and the PCs are also hoping to find methods that will aid in their “open for business” policy, as well as to help cut red tape and save on spending.

For Durham, the lower-tier municipalities include Oshawa, Ajax, Pickering, Whitby, Clarington, Scugog, Uxbridge, and Brock.

“They are within their power to [review regional government], but they really need to have a conversation with the regions, the municipalities, businesses, and most of all the public. They need to be involved in this process,” Henry says.

Henry noted “Durham Region is a little unique in that we’re one of the largest regions in Ontario, we cover a land mass half the size of Prince Edward Island. Clarington alone is bigger than the city of Toronto by land size.”

He says the region delivers services others might not, while the lower-tier municipalities, such as Oshawa, deliver services Durham doesn’t.

“Each municipality has their own fire department. They look after libraries, recreation facilities, and museums, and [the region] looks after health and social services, social housing, and policing,” the regional chair adds.

Henry also notes regional municipalities such as Durham runs differently from the federal and provincial levels because they can run deficits, while the region can’t.

“Here at the region and in the municipalities we look at service delivery best practices every day, and continuous improvement, and are now reaching out and doing things that are very much different, so it’s important that we’re part of this conversation and I think that the public has the right to participate in this. It’s their voice, it’s their government,” says Henry.

“There’s a lot of things that we do that other levels of government may not be aware of, and in order to be aware of that, maybe they should talk to us.”

Henry says he hasn’t spoken to Ford in a couple of weeks but shared his concerns on some challenges the region faces, such as the impending closure of the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

“If they’re serious about being ‘open for business,’ then support the removing of the tolls on [Highways] 412 and 418, release the lands on the 412, 418, and 407 as they are designated employment lands,” says Henry. “If they are serious about being ‘open for business,’ let’s move people efficiently and let’s get the GO train built out to Clarington.”

“If you’re ‘open for business’ let’s look for every opportunity that we can to get people back to work.”

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French says she’d like to have a better understanding of what the ultimate goal of the review is.

“Is it a matter of meddling? I don’t see meddling necessarily as leadership,” French told The Express. “If it is something that is done along the municipal and regional leaders, that’s one thing, but I think you have a lot of people who are wondering what the purpose or the goal is.”

French said the outcome of the provincial government turning its attention to the council structure of the City of Toronto was “unsettling.”

She too underlined the need for local input.

“I am wary of the intent of this review if the outcome is driven by the Premier’s Office, as opposed to the outcome being driven by what’s best for the community,” she adds.

Harkening back to the days of Mike Harris, French says Ontario residents remember the effect of amalgamation.

“Amalgamation for the sake of amalgamation is going to be a tough sell,” she says. 

– with files from Dave Flaherty