A city divided

Talks of the city of Waterloo amalgamating with the city of Kitchener have emerged on and off since the 1990s. This fall, a referendum question posing the possibility of further discussion between the municipalities on the technicalities of a merger will be on the election ballot.

While either outcome, in support of or against the question, will not force the city into any definite amalgamation dealings, the divide between voters is already growing.

Tricia Siemens, co-chair for the committee Let’s Talk KW that supports a yes vote in the referendum, explained, “The question doesn’t mean that there is going to be a merger, the question is to give council direction to start those talks.”

It’s the variety of perspectives held by Waterloo citizens and particularly business owners that propels the discussion.

“There’s a number of people who know very well how the city works and who probably see some benefit of only having one set of people to talk to rather than two,” speculated Jeff Henry, candidate for Waterloo city council’s Ward 6, “But for the average citizen, I haven’t been able to discern what the benefit would be.”

The uncertainty of any benefits resulting from an amalgamation is the reason why Siemens and others support an inquiry into the matter, arguing that the answer should be explored at the very least.

“I don’t have any predetermined outcomes,” admitted Siemens. “As a small business owner, I’m always looking at efficiencies in my business and the possibility of partnerships for different things that I do and I think that basically we’re trying to encourage people to vote yes to give the councils a direction to start talking.”

However, the costs behind such a project is what concerns those against the ballot.

“The referendum itself, i.e. having the question and putting it on the paper and all of that probably isn’t that great [in cost],” said Henry.

Henry went on to explain that the real cost of a yes to the question would mean “we would be diverting attention and resources, staff time, lawyers, to be able to examine these types of questions fully and that would take a lot of time away from solving the issues that we do have in this area like the student housing challenges.”

With so many priorities on the city’s agenda, Henry cannot see how this discussion is justifiable. “Until there are some good reasons provided for why we should spend time doing this, I don’t think it’s a question worth considering,” he said.

To some, including the group Let’s Talk KW, the discussion is nevertheless one worth having.

“The reason why we should bring this up again and say yes, [is that] it keeps being talked about in an informal way and so let’s get it out in the open and start talking,” said Siemens.

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