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May 17, 2006:
VOCO meets with John Tory

Cowan's' Bay, Ontario - On Wednesday, May 17, John Tory, Ontario's Leader of the Opposition, met with members of VOCO (Voices of Central Ontario) at a residence in this hamlet east of Lindsay. Mr. Tory was keeping a promise made to VOCO's Bill Homes at the March 8 Landowners rally in Port Perry, to meet and discuss his party's position on the City of Kawartha Lakes' de-amalgamation vote.

      This "City", known for the previous 150 years as Victoria County, was forcibly amalgamated in 2000 by the then-Conservative provincial government. But two years of sustained and vehement protest from residents convinced that same government to request a "Ministers' Question" on de-amalgamation on the 2003 municipal ballot. The result: voters chose to deamalgamate and restore their County and local municipalities.

      Premier Dalton McGuinty has refused to recognize that democratic decision, in spite of a written promise, made when he was Leader of the Opposition, to give residents a binding referendum on de-amalgamation.

      Petitions from thousands of City of Kawartha Lakes voters have been presented in the Legislature by members of the NDP, as well as by several members of Mr. Tory's own caucus, but he has remained silent on the issue.

      Mr. Tory listened to the concerns expressed at the, asked many questions, and (perhaps the most promising sign), actually took notes of the conversation. In particular, he was interested in anecdotal information: the effects of amalgamation on the community (eg. volunteers, local contractors, staff who reside outside the City), the "dis-economies of scale" (eg. ballooning budgets, highly-paid directors) and the inefficiencies inherent in "centralizing" services for such an enormous area.

      There was some discussion of the "optimum" structure for this municipal government. Mr. Tory expressed his preference for "smaller government, closer to the people". He was interested to hear Mr. Gerretsen's three criteria for de-amalgamation: tax fairness, sustainability, and approval from Council. It was noted that the former two-tier structure allowed for more tax fairness, was sustained for 150 years, was requested by the voters, and that Council has passed a motion demanding that the Province honour the vote . Also mentioned were the several voluntary township amalgamations which were underway when the Province imposed the one-tier structure. It is fair to assume that these would proceed in conjuction with de-amalgamation, thus eventually resulting in fewer than the original 16 lower-tier municipalities

      Mr. Tory acknowledged some of the problems forseen if the Province were to recognize the CoKL referendum, in particular "if we let them have it, everyone will want it". The City of Kawartha Lakes is only one of many forced amalgamations which have proved disastrous for municipal taxpayers. However it is the only one of these to have held, and won, a referendum on de-amalgamation. He was given the obvious answer: if other areas reach the same threshold as did residents in the City of Kawartha Lakes (eg. 11,000 names on a petition, more than 6000 people voting in a citizens'-initiated referendum), let them vote. If they choose to de-amalgamate, that's their decision. In a democracy, the people are never wrong.

      If voters attending the Cowan's Bay meeting were hoping to hear an unequivocal stance on the issue, they left disappointed. Instead, they heard Mr. Tory's oft-repeated refrain: "Mr. McGuinty is known for breaking promises. I don't want to make any promises I can't keep." (Corollary: "I won't make any promises at all")

      However, he did make these undertakings: (1) to forward to Mr. McGuinty a request to meet with VOCO, and (2) to discuss the issue with his caucus colleagues. He also asked those attending to forward any comments or suggestions to his office. (He suggested "on a blank piece of paper"...obviously he's not familiar with VOCO. We can assure him that anything that arrives unsigned didn't come from a VOCO supporter!)

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