Local issues should stay local

With only weeks to go in municipal election campaigns around the province the legacy of the amalgamation of major metropolitan centres in southern Ontario is becoming apparent. The mayoralty campaign in Toronto has taken an unexpected turn with the immense popularity of a candidate – Rob Ford – who has focused on fiscal responsibility as opposed to larger legacy projects and basic city management issues, such as infrastructure spending, that usually dominate the debate.

In Hamilton an all out fight has broken out between downtown residents and the suburbs over the location of a stadium meant to house both events for the upcoming commonwealth games and the local football club, the Tiger Cats.

Although both conflicts are about different issues they are the result of the same act that combined several different municipal councils into one larger council, based on the seemingly short-sighted justification of cost cutting.

In Toronto and Hamilton elected representatives of residents with different interests and ideas of what their city should be are pitted against each other in a struggle for funding. Instead of being allowed to spend the tax dollars of a particular area on the issues that are important to its residents, often local issues and interests are neglected due to infighting or a simple inability to agree.

Yet through all of the confusion and large politics taking place elsewhere, the cities along the Grand River – Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge specifically – have managed to escape such a burden and have organized themselves in a way that may provide a model by which the reorganization of municipal powers should have taken place.

What is on display in the tri-city area is the separation of issues along appropriate lines that allows for regional autonomy, while still being able to administer services that necessarily have a larger reaching scope.

Many Laurier students are well familiar with Grand River Transit, a system that allows anyone to ride from Cambridge to Waterloo using only one bus. That transit system is run by the region of Waterloo meaning that potential conflicts over route allocation and ridership issues are dealt with on a scale that benefits all three cities.

Two years ago I attended a meeting for residents of Waterloo for consultation on the rapid transit line that was planned to run between St. Jacobs and Cambridge and was astonished at how well organized the plan was. Each potential placement of the line was broken up in ways that respected the unique nature of the neighbourhoods it might infringe upon and was presented with a number of alternate routes.

By separating the responsibilities of councils, the situation for voters is simplified as they no longer have to choose between, perhaps, several different candidates that perfectly embody their stance on any particular issue. The triage approach to voting is essentially eliminated. A look at the minutes of the local Waterloo City Council shows a group of people who are able to focus on truly local issues. Likewise, a glance at the agenda of the regional councillors reveals individuals concerned with the vitality of the region.

The mega cities of the Golden Horseshoe may be moving towards such a system. Metrolinks has emerged as a body capable of specializing in the transit systems of many different regions. The adaptation, however, is coming far too late and is born out of some hard learned lessons by residents.

There may be no turning back the clock on amalgamation, but it is not too late yet to learn from the mistakes made and create a system that will operate and represent local interest better. Here’s to hoping that four years down the road when Ontarians come to choose their civic leaders again that there are fewer stones to throw and less mud to sling.