Support local news? Donate to Niagara Now.Support local news? Donate to Niagara Now.
The Weather Network
May. 24, 2019 | Friday
Local News
Gates talks region merger: Consultation is crucial for smaller communities
MPP Wayne Gates fears the province will make a rushed decision when it comes to options for making regional government more efficient. He says the province needs to listen to the public and the wishes of small communities with unique identities. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)

Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates says he is worried about whether the wishes of smaller communities will be heard during a provincial review of regional government.

While the province’s plans for the future of regional governments remain unclear, Premier Doug Ford has said he wants to find efficiencies and eliminate duplication. That has many Niagara politicians worried about amalgamation and merger of some municipal governments.

“I’ll be honest, we know very little about the plans of the province,” said Gates. “They have not indicated to us or talked to us about any legislation that’s going to be brought forward yet.”

Still, he is “absolutely” concerned the provincial government is going to make a rushed decision. The regional review is expected to be completed by the summer.

“Everything that I’ve seen since we’ve had a new premier in the province of Ontario has been rushed,” he said during a phone interview with The Lake Report.

“He rushed the bill to go through for autism. That’s got parents from right around the province so upset. Instead of consulting with experts around that bill they just went ahead and did it — did not talk to parents, did not talk to the service providers; didn’t talk to the universities and the colleges. Everything they seem to do is a rush without consultation. And I think that’s a mistake. I think you’ve got to talk to people.”

Public consultations will be held this spring, an official with the provincial Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Public Housing told The Lake Report. However, no dates or locations are available yet, he said.  Conrad Spezowka, media relations spokesperson for MMAH, did not comment on whether amalgamation or reducing the size of local councils is being considered.

“Any time you hear the Conservative government talk about finding efficiencies, it’s hard not to get a little nervous,” said Gates. “And when I say that I think there’s some examples of what transpired over the years under the Harris government, when they said they were going to find efficiencies.”

Some changes resulted in the loss of services, which he doesn’t think is in the best interest of taxpayers. Other examples have had long-lasting and even fatal effects, he said, such as the water treatment disaster in Walkerton.

“Seven people died in Walkerton because of the privatization of the (water treatment) services there,” he said.

Another part of the review, which mayors across Gate’s riding have also expressed concerns about, is the possibility of reducing the number of politicians. “Maybe around the same (way) that I have, like I’m elected to represent Niagara Falls, NOTL and Fort Erie,” Gates said. 

By removing local politicians, Gates said people “lose that politician that’s going to come to your house when they have a flood in the basement and a cracked sidewalk.”

“I think having less politicians isn’t always the best for the community,” he said.

One thing he finds “interesting” is that mayors across the region agreed there weren’t many details discussed during their meeting last month with the province’s two special advisers.

“One of the things I was hoping they would have done during the review — that they have to do on a go-forward basis — is give a commitment to the local municipalities that they’re going to be consulted and local input will be taken seriously. I think that’s very important for smaller communities like Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie,” he said.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is a very unique community. It’s got an incredible amount of history. We continue to fight every day to make sure we keep our identity and our heritage.”

Fort Erie is similar, he added.

In cases where there are such different identities to communities, the provincial reviewers should be talking to the people and to the politicians elected by the people to represent them, he said.

“My issue is that I don’t want a heavy-handed situation here. They’ve got to consult with the municipalities and the municipalities have to be on board. ’Cause I’m not so sure a place like Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie would like to see their identities lost with any kind of forced amalgamation.”

“Is there ways to find efficiencies? You can have that discussion with the elected reps.”

“If they’re going to do something like this, wouldn’t it make sense to have town hall meetings right across Niagara? And listen to residents’ concerns and listen to the elected reps who have been voted in just a few months ago to represent them?”

He said he doesn’t think Niagara needs to be one city to find a voice at a provincial level.

“We can talk with one voice,” Gates said. “I think we’ve proven that,” citing getting GO Train services to Niagara as an example of when communities came together at the provincial level.

“The reality is on GO Train, there was one voice.”

Affairs and Public Housing told The Lake Report. However, no dates or locations are available yet, he said.  Conrad Spezowka, media relations spokesperson for MMAH, did not comment on whether amalgamation or reducing the size of local councils is being considered.

“Any time you hear the Conservative government talk about finding efficiencies, it’s hard not to get a little nervous,” said Gates. “And when I say that I think there’s some examples of what transpired over the years under the Harris government, when they said they were going to find efficiencies.”

Some changes resulted in the loss of services, which he doesn’t think is in the best interest of taxpayers. Other examples have had long-lasting and even fatal effects, he said, such as the water treatment disaster in Walkerton.

“Seven people died in Walkerton because of the privatization of the (water treatment) services there,” he said.

Another part of the review, which mayors across Gate’s riding have also expressed concerns about, is the possibility of reducing the number of politicians. “Maybe around the same (way) that I have, like I’m elected to represent Niagara Falls, NOTL and Fort Erie,” Gates said.

By removing local politicians, Gates said people “lose that politician that’s going to come to your house when they have a flood in the basement and a cracked sidewalk.”

“I think having less politicians isn’t always the best for the community,” he said.

One thing he finds “interesting” is that mayors across the region agreed there weren’t many details discussed during their meeting last month with the province’s two special advisers.

“One of the things I was hoping they would have done during the review — that they have to do on a go-forward basis — is give a commitment to the local municipalities that they’re going to be consulted and local input will be taken seriously. I think that’s very important for smaller communities like Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie,” he said.

“Niagara-on-the-Lake is a very unique community. It’s got an incredible amount of history. We continue to fight every day to make sure we keep our identity and our heritage.”

Fort Erie is similar, he added.

In cases where there are such different identities to communities, the provincial reviewers should be talking to the people and to the politicians elected by the people to represent them, he said.

“My issue is that I don’t want a heavy-handed situation here. They’ve got to consult with the municipalities and the municipalities have to be on board. ’Cause I’m not so sure a place like Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie would like to see their identities lost with any kind of forced amalgamation.”

“Is there ways to find efficiencies? You can have that discussion with the elected reps.”

“If they’re going to do something like this, wouldn’t it make sense to have town hall meetings right across Niagara? And listen to residents’ concerns and listen to the elected reps who have been voted in just a few months ago to represent them?”

He said he doesn’t think Niagara needs to be one city to find a voice at a provincial level.

“We can talk with one voice,” Gates said. “I think we’ve proven that,” citing getting GO Train services to Niagara as an example of when communities came together at the provincial level.

“The reality is on GO Train, there was one voice.”

f4033d7793009a4053c4497d8eccc3d53dc2dca8:f3b26ac4b4afe3f66e6edbd72929abcc23aa338f