Saturday, 11 May 2019

No marriage, divorce, or counselling, without informed consent – MIRANET’s submission to Regional Government Review

On 8 May 2019, MIRANET presented to the Peel Consultation of the Regional Government Review. Their remarks are presented in a modified form below. For MIRANET’s remarks and press release, please click here.

MIRANET’s Thoughts on Regional Government Changes
  1. Introduction
Is half a day enough time for the advisers to listen to the questions and concerns of a region of over 1 million people made up of 3 different municipalities? To decide the fate of an almost five decade old union that has more than tripled in population, created numerous jobs and unprecedented prosperity for all, and is now jointly responsible for billions of dollars of infrastructure which will be around for many decades to come. It takes a lifetime of marriage to form a strong union. A union of two individuals produces shared offspring. It also creates joint liabilities – a house, a car. In terms of the region, this translates to regional services and regional infrastructure. A divorce almost always creates unhappiness and unintended consequences – constant legal wrangling and costs, neglected offspring and broken individuals. The same could happen to the Region should it allow the City of Mississauga to leave.
We are not saying that this union is perfect – there is certainly room for improvement. However, you cannot change something unless you know what is working and what is not. Change for the sake of change may end up breaking something that did not need fixing in the first place.
  1. Lack of Time and Information
Given the complexity of this issue MIRANET feels we do not have enough time or information to make a thoughtful, educated decision. What is the urgency? We have been presented with two reports thus far: the Deloitte Report commissioned by the Region of Peel; and the Corporate Report from the City of Mississauga. Mayor Crombie has criticized the Deloitte Report for “having an agenda.” As citizens of a democracy we are entitled to an unbiased report conducted by a third party.
  1. The Marriage Option
More time for review of the three options is needed: amalgamation, secession, and status quo. Or as we refer to them: marriage, divorce and counselling. Why is the Province rushing the marriage when it will be such a complicated decision? How will this process be any different given the complexity of Toronto’s amalgamation whose negative impacts are still being felt today and which did not create the efficiencies that were expected? The report from the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG) in 2013 concluded that the two-tier option was preferable in terms of costs and ability to govern effectively. The report from the Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank, published in 2015, concluded that Ontario amalgamations in the 1990’s did not yield any benefits. Not only do we face increased operating costs and therefore taxes, but we also face the potential reduction in the number of Councillors, making it harder for our voices to be heard. At this point we are concerned that we are headed for a shot-gun wedding. And as the old adage goes: marry in haste, repent at leisure.
  1. The Divorce Option
Our second option is divorce, which has been endorsed by the City of Mississauga as outlined in their Corporate Report, which is partly based on information that is 16 years out of date. It is impossible to draw any conclusions supporting divorce based on the information currently available. What mechanism would be put in place to separate capital investments or ongoing liabilities such as waste dumps? Who will be accountable? How will service transfers be decided and managed? What are the contingency plans? How long will the divorce take? Will there be sufficient time for the divorce to proceed in an orderly manner? Is there a dispute resolution mechanism in place? Or will we be contending with utter chaos and mounting legal bills for years to come? We have nothing but questions in search of answers.
  1. The Status Quo Option
The final option is maintaining the status quo. According to the City’s own Citizens’ Satisfaction Surveys (the most recent being 2017) 89% of residents rated the overall quality of life as excellent or good, and 71% were satisfied with the City’s municipal government. The greater issue seems to be lack of dedicated funding from the Provincial Government.
To date we have not seen or been given access to any studies which identify inefficiencies within the current two-tier system of government. If we knew exactly what the problems were, we could then formulate appropriate solutions. Isn’t the simplest option usually the best? Or in other words: it ain’t broke, it just needs some minor adjustments.
  1. Concluding Thoughts
Throughout this entire, very short and very chaotic process, three things stand out:
  1. The one-sided focus on taxes and costs. There has been no mention of investments, investments in people. In our democratic society we have all agreed to pay taxes in order that these monies may be redistributed for our mutual benefit. Every tax dollar is an investment in ourselves, in our neighbours and in our future. Every line item within the regional and municipal budgets is an investment in the residents of Peel and Mississauga and in our shared values. We should not just be looking at absolute costs but at returns on investment, something that leading economists the world over are advocating.
  2. This process lacks transparency and therefore legitimacy. We currently have no unbiased information at our disposal, nor do we have any real input into the final decision. We have not been given the yardsticks by which the special advisors will be measuring regional governance, decision-making and service delivery – they were not provided in the emailed brief nor were they provided in the online Terms of Reference. A robust democracy requires access to credible and reliable information, an electorate willing to spend the time to educate themselves on the issues and a government prepared to listen, learn and acquiesce to the will of the people.
  3. The residents of Peel should ultimately be the ones to decide the fate of their region. By this we mean the electorate; this is not a decision that should be left to either the province or our Municipal Councillors where neither has been given a mandate to do so.

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