Jack Brezina: Let's, at least, start the discussion
|By Jack Brezina - Contributing Writer | May 24, 2018|
There was a smallish crowd at the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce-sponsored warden’s breakfast several weeks ago. Haliburton County Warden Suzanne Partridge held this annual morning bunfest at YMCA Camp Wanakita, a camp just inside her home municipality of Highlands East. This fact was probably a surprise to many, since the only way into the camp is through the settlement of Donald which is located in Dysart et al. But sure enough, just south of Donald, one crosses into the northwest corner of the municipality of Highlands East. But enough about geography.
The warden was gracious in her presentation as she talked about the many challenges and opportunities facing Haliburton County. Partridge spoke about the need for better communications between elected officials and the public, always an issue that needs addressing and one that will likely never be fully resolved. The warden called for more open public discussion of issues and less hallway talk. She also stressed the need for improved cell phone and internet service throughout the county. Another quest that is likewise never-ending. In a rural area as rugged as ours, it will be very difficult to meet the needs of everyone who wants high quality, competitively priced, cell and internet access.
She then opened the floor to questions. The inquiries covered a variety of topics and as I listened, I couldn’t help but think that most responses to planning, waste disposal and recycling, roads, policing costs, economic development and more could be most efficiently handled by a single tier municipal structure.
Asked by yours truly if there was any interest amongst the current elected officials, (at least the eight at the county council table, a group that has met for three and a half years), in considering a single tier for the county, Partridge said she did not sense any indication that any of the county councillors were prepared to broach the matter and certainly not her.
While now is perhaps not an appropriate time to begin a campaign to change the system, an election is a good time to float the idea and see if it is an item that could gain some traction. I have heard of at least one incumbent candidate who, if successful, would be part of county council (ie candidates for mayor or deputy mayor), who is about to broach the possibility of working toward a single tier municipal structure for the election that will be held in 2022.
It would be a long and tortuous road. The province would need to agree, the county council would need to be the driving force and the majority of municipalities would have to buy into the idea and support the restructuring that would be required to make it a reality.
It would require an investment of time on behalf of those championing the idea that could divert attention away from other pressing issues. But it is something that should not be left lurking in the shadows. Let’s get it on the table, start the discussion and plan for our own future.
I fear that after June 7, the option of planning for a single tier municipal structure could be removed from local hands and imposed on the county by Queen’s Park. I cringe as I recall how well the imposition of a single tier, by the Mike Harris government, was received by our neighbours to the south back in 2001 and hope that any move to one level of municipal governance would be created right here in Haliburton County
Jack Brezina is a contributing writer for The Highlander.