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by Anne Panter
January 29, 2003

Reviewing Amalgamation Predictions

     In a previous column, I listed ten predictions made before amalgamation, of changes that would come when we lost our two-tier government. Now, after two years of single-tier government we have a basis for comparison. What differences have we seen? One of the greatest fears many had was the loss of representation. Our Reeves used to represent their constituents and their concerns at County Council, now - Councillors simply carry the City message back to the ratepayers.

     One of the most highlighted examples of this was the day the decision to begin removing area rating for sidewalks and streetlights passed through Council. The Letters to the Editor in all local papers, and discussions on the streets and in the Coffee Shops clearly proved that this hit a nerve throughout the County. The day that issue came before Council the building was packed. Ratepayers not only filled the Victoria Room, but overflowed into the adjoining room and out into the hallway. Hundreds of angry constituents watched in person and on closed circuit TV as City Council ignored their concerns and voted to drop the area rating.

     In perhaps the most obvious example yet of the loss of democracy, Councillor Marsh presented a petition from one of his ratepayers beseeching Council to retain area rating. He went on to explain that the signatures had been collected by a lady who had phoned him the evening before begging him for an answer as to "what could be done?'". Between the end of that phone call at supper time and the meeting the next day that lady had collected over 250 signatures. Even if Councillor Marsh had a signature from every single taxpayer in his 'ward' he could not have given them what they asked. He was only one vote of 17. The motion to drop the area rating passed 10-7.

     Many of the Councillors who voted to drop the area rating argued that we are all one big happy family now, and one of the most common examples they used was the upgrades to the Kinmount water system. The changes to Kinmount's water system as mandated by the Province would have bankrupted the Village without Council stepping in to spread those costs over the water users city-wide.

     But wait a minute, if this same issue had happened under the old two-tier system in Victoria County do you really believe for a minute that the people of Kinmount would have let their Village die because of an error made by an employee in some other community? With the two-tier system, do you really believe the County could not have risen to this challenge? You could even ask our then-MPP. Do you really believe the provincial government would have allowed their policy to wipe Kinmount off the map? In an election year?

     If you've ever seen the movie "Witness" you'll recall the Amish grandfather explaining his religion's stand on violence to a young child. "There's always another way." The Town Council in Innisfil, Ont. was in fact faced with the same problem as Kinmount - and they did find another way. They refused to impose the Provincial policy. Do you believe the Mayor of Innisfil will go to jail? In an election year?

     As Thomas Jefferson once said "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." When governments pass bad legislation, conscientious citizens have an obligation to protest. As demonstrated by the futility of Councillor Marsh's petition, when we lost our local Councils we lost a democratic voice, and every bit as important - we also lost the forum in which to protest.

     When the Voices Of Central Ontario (VOCO) began to cry out for those democratic voices to be returned almost four years ago, the voices steadily grew in number and magnitude, and have finally been acknowledged. A referendum question on November 10 will be your chance to restore those democratic voices as well as the forums. The question is simple, the answer easier still"YES".

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