Clark Cancels Amalgamation Talk, Announces New Money for Cities

After months of work getting feedback on the efficiencies and usefulness of two-tier regional governments, and just weeks after receiving the report, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark announced at an AMO Meeting in London today that amalgamation will not be forced on Ontario municipalities.

“We will not force amalgamation of municipalities. We will not impose cuts on municipal councils,” Clark said at the fall policy forum of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario according to CBC. “I want to make it perfectly clear: We will not be imposing these changes on our municipal partners.”

Last year, the Government of Ontario announced that they would be pursuing a review of municipal governance after reducing the number of council seats in Toronto, and canceling elections for new regional chairs in York, Peel, Niagara and Muskoka. In January former Ontario deputy minister Michael Fenn and former Waterloo Region Chair Ken Seiling were appointed as special advisors to perform the review.

Last month, it was reported that Fenn and Seiling had finished their report.

“The minister received the final report from Michael Fenn and Ken Seiling on opportunities to improve governance, decision making and service delivery. We thank them for their efforts which included substantial consultation and will have more to say in the coming months,” said Julie O’Driscoll, the director of communications for Clark, said in an email to CBC.

There’s no indication if this was Clark following a recommendation to keep the status quo, or whether it was decided to cancel the review all together even at this late phase.

A government press release said that through the review, they heard from local communities that they wanted to be able to call their own shots on how their municipal services are provided.

“After careful consideration of the feedback we heard through the course of the review, our government stands firm in its commitment to partnering with municipalities without pursuing a top-down approach,” said the release. “We will provide municipalities with the resources to support local decision-making.”

In other news, Clark came to AMO with an offer of $143 million to help municipalities lower costs and improve services by finding efficiencies in areas like transit, water, and parks and recreation.

“Municipalities are the level of government closest to the people, but every community is different – one size doesn’t fit all,” said Clark, in a statement. “This investment in communities will support municipal transformation efforts to make sure they are delivering efficient, effective and modern services that best meet the unique needs of their residents.”

The person representing Ontario’s big cities mayors is at least happy with the decision.

“I’m very pleased that Minister Clark’s announcement demonstrates the Province’s measured approach to its partnership with the municipal sector,” Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie said in a media release on behalf of the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO). “We know we can deliver more efficient services for our residents when we work together, and Minister Clark has proven that over these last few months.

“Municipal governments understand our communities’ needs and are often best-positioned to respond to deliver the services our residents require,” Guthrie added. “I’m encouraged by today’s announcement. It signals a long-term commitment from the Province to work collaboratively with municipalities in the years ahead.”

The $143 million in funding announced Friday will include the funding announced in May to perform third-party audits on municipal finances, plus funds for municipalities to conduct service delivery reviews.

In another interesting move, the Province will also begin consultations to see if the provincial and municipal fiscal years should be aligned, and will start the process of creating a single voters list for both provincial and municipal elections. Presently, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation oversees the list of electors municipally.

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