Will amalgamation ever happen in Haliburton County?
The short answer is likely not in the foreseeable future.
That is the sense I got after a breakfast gathering last week with the warden Liz Danielsen, who is also the deputy mayor of Algonquin Highlands. The bun-fest was held at Sandy Lane Resort at Halls Lake. The annual Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event provides an opportunity to hear from the top municipal politician in the county in a casual setting designed to provide some insight into what is planned by the senior level of government.
The Warden presented a list of initiatives or perhaps, areas of contemplation, currently under consideration at the county level. Among those was improved cell and internet services. It was interesting to note that amalgamation was the second item mentioned in her formal remarks … a ranking that could imply its importance in the overall scheme of things … or perhaps it was simply an effort to acknowledge the issue and then marginalize it.
The Warden acknowledged there is some interest in studying the question of amalgamation, and to that end, a series of municipal studies are underway to identify services provided at each of the two levels, presumably to provide some basis on which to make further recommendations on what to do next. That sounds like something is being done. But in response to subsequent questions, the Warden applied the brakes on any suggestion this was a priority item by reiterating the call to take into consideration the need to protect the unique identity of the regions of the county. It is a point that has been raised before: see the Warden’s Breakfast 2018, Highlands East Deputy Mayor Suzanne Partridge edition. And it drains all the optimism out of the idea that something … anything … will be accomplished. Every corner of the county is unique. I have seen most of them and they simply ooze singularity. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be part of a larger unit for the benefit of all.
But wait, my airy-fairy pontifications about making an effort to consider the ramifications of amalgamation came crashing down to reality when another questioner, Keith Thomas of Francis Thomas Contracting in Carnarvon, made an observation. He noted that a municipality in the county had just purchased an excavator, an expensive piece of equipment. He noted as a man in the business of using heavy equipment, he wouldn’t have made such an investment unless he could foresee at least 1000 hours of annual use for the machine. He suggested he did not anticipate the municipality had that many hours of work for the piece of equipment. The implication being that a shared purchase between municipalities (or perhaps a purchase by a larger municipal entity with greater needs for the machine) would have made more sense. Finally, someone who can explain single tier government for Haliburton County in terms most of us can understand.
So, those who are elected to lead in the county can get on with examining what the future holds and find the best path forward or they can wait for Premier Doug Ford and his “for the people” minions to ram a made-in-Queen’s Park solution through, a solution that likely won’t please anybody