OPINION - St. Catharines Standard
Those pesky elections — what do we need them for?
That seems to be the takeaway from comments made by Premier Doug Ford at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, which is occurring in Toronto this week.
On Monday Ford told AMO delegates that Bill 5 — the Better Local Government Act — would make municipal governments more efficient by cancelling the at-large election of regional chairs in Niagara, York, Peel and Muskoka, while also reducing the size of Toronto city council by almost half.
"The Liberals imposed these new elected regional chairs in 2016, and the last thing any municipality needs is yet another layer of elected politicians," Ford said.
"That's not how you make better decisions by having more politicians," he added.
There are many things wrong with this approach to the issue, not least being the apparent dismissal of the democratic right of populations to select their own government and its leaders.
"He has no idea the value that the people of Niagara place on the opportunity to elect the chair at large," said St. Catharines regional Coun. Bruce Timms.
Ford's comments have also generated speculation about what he intends going forward. Is this an indication the province will legislate further changes on Niagara municipalities — resurrect the dual-duty councillor idea or even eliminate the two-tier system altogether, as the former Mike Harris Tories did to several municipalities in the late 1990s?
But Ford's comments also demonstrate a disturbing lack of understanding of the structure of regional government in the municipalities affected by Bill 5, the so-called Better Local Government Act.
Direct election of the regional chair in Niagara most clearly did not create another layer of elected politicians. It did not add to the size of regional council, did not increase the cost of regional government, did not add to the regional bureaucracy.
It replaced an undemocratic system of choosing the regional chair from among the elected group of councillors, a system which is ripe for backroom dealings and abuse.
The current system has not saved Niagara from bureaucratic bungling and waste, look no further than the current iteration of council which has been bogged down by scandal and infighting. "Better" decision-making has not been noticeable in Niagara.
Direct election of the regional chair ultimately would have made the municipal system in Niagara more democratic, not less.
And the way the legislation was hurriedly introduced and passed, with virtually no input from the municipalities affected, right on the same day nominations for the Oct. 22 election closed, throwing the entire process into turmoil and uncertainty, was manifestly unfair to both the municipalities and candidates.
Many of those candidates had already been fundraising, some had entered into contracts to spend money on the rental of campaign offices, entered into contracts with printers for the purchase of signs and election handouts, and all the myriad costs associated with organizing a campaign.
The province has said there will be no reimbursement of costs and it appears the money donated to these now non-existent campaigns is money lost to both the donors and the campaigns.
Bill 5, which was passed by the province last week, is being challenged in court by Toronto city council, which approved a motion to do so, also on Monday. What effect the court challenge will have on Niagara remains unclear — if it is successful, or even delays imposition of the law, what does that mean?
A hearing date has already been set for Aug. 31, when Toronto's lawyers will join others who had previously launched legal challenges against the province, according to the Toronto Star.
This is better governance?