I’m not sure if the County’s services delivery review project has been shelved by COVID-19 but after watching the County and its four lower-tier municipalities deal with the coronavirus pandemic, I really hope it is continuing and that it recommends a follow-up governance review.

While I am confident everyone’s heart is in the right place, the handling of this crisis to date magnifies why having five different government entities does not always work well in the Haliburton Highlands.

For example, different states of emergency declarations on different days and at different times. Surely, the County CAO and warden, and the four other CAOs and mayors could have had a discussion about this and declared at the same time. Not doing so simply confuses residents.

For us in the media, it meant four different press releases from four different organizations all saying essentially the same thing. [I say four because Algonquin Highlands hasn’t actually declared a state of emergency].

Minden Hills started things off on March 17, followed by the County on March 18, Highlands East on March 19 and Dysart et al on March 20. How is this efficient?


Since this crisis began to ramp up on March 12, we have had separate releases from the County, Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills. They have adopted similar – but not always the same – approaches to how things are being handled. Once again, why make this more confusing to the general public?

So, now, we have five designations of authority with separate emergency control centres, and emergency control groups, each issuing voluminous, and different, messaging.

Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin told a County Council meeting during a discussion on the coronavirus, “rather than five flavours, I would like one and have the County be the voice.” Yet, within days, he was having his people reach out to media to tell them Minden Hills was declaring a state of emergency.

So, what we are getting now is five flavours and the County is not the voice of authority. When we really need to hear one calming voice across the county, we are hearing far too many. This does not breed confidence. This does not calm nerves. This is aggravating.

The contractor who is doing the services delivery review – Toronto-based StrategyCorp. – has a fine example of how our current government system is not working.

Amidst all of this, the public sector salary disclosure list was released March 20. It is a confusing document to research, but I found 17 people in local government. There are 10 at the County, who earned a combined $1.336 million last year. The other seven, at the lower-tier townships, brought in about $930,000. That’s more than $2 million in a County that has a permanent population of about 18,000.

Yet, when it come to COVID-19, I feel hard-pressed to say that anyone has earned their money when it comes to dealing with this situation. Like I said at the beginning, everyone’s heart might be in the right place, and they’ve never dealt with a global pandemic before, but stop and think, consult with each other, and don’t fall back into decades-old habits of operating in silos.

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