One of my favourite times of year is Maple Syrup season. Each year for the past three years I have hosted a community Maple Syrup Festival at the Elgin West Community Centre and Twickenham forest. I cannot think of a more Canadian way to welcome spring than making Maple Syrup with the community. I hope you can join us for this annual tradition on March 23rd from 10AM to 2PM.
The event will feature pancakes with real Maple Syrup, modern and old fashion sap boiling demonstrations, activities for the kids, and a horse drawn wagon ride to the sugar bush. Complete details for this free family oriented event are contained below.
I attended an Association of Municipalities of Ontario seminar recently and had the pleasure of speaking with a number of fellow councillors from across the province. These councillors represented a diverse cross section of the more than 400 communities in Ontario. There were councillors, mayors, and reeves from mid size and smaller municipalities and from a range of rural and urban towns and cities as well. I always find it interesting the number of challenges we share as municipalities no matter how big or small, or rural or urban our communities might be. I am also always interested to hear the unique characteristics that each municipality does not have in common with others. It is often these unique characteristics us Councillors seem to proudly speak about when describing to our colleagues, our home communities. I also believe it is this uniqueness between municipalities that adds value and pride to our home communities in Ontario.
Municipalities in Ontario are creatures of the province. They exist entirely at the pleasure of the provincial government, and while they do enjoy the autonomy that is given them by the province, they are ultimately not a level of government that has any enshrined right to exist. Although a number of Ontario municipalities have budgets bigger than the province of Prince Edward Island, nowhere are the rights of town and cities even mentioned in the Canadian constitution, yet these towns and cities are clearly important. Towns and cities are where every one of us live, and in many ways, the decisions that are made by municipal councils impact all of our lives in a very real way.
I am under no illusion that our right to exist as a municipality should necessarily be enshrined in the constitution. However, I have come to an increasing belief during my time on Council, that municipalities need to be given more freedom to grow and prosper in a way that suits their citizens. “One size does not fit all” so this freedom must be consistently, predictably, and permanently, granted by the province if unique and distinct communities are to thrive. I have no doubt that this is important.
Recently the provincial government took a step in the right direction by making some important changes that gave municipalities some more freedom and autonomy. Significant changes to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) were made by dissolving this tribunal and launching a significantly different appeal body known as the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) (for more information on this change visit https://davidwest-richmondhill.ca/the-end-or-at-least-the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-omb/ ). The new LPAT is now giving municipalities more responsibility and control over how their municipality grows and evolves over time, and this was a change that many municipalities, including Richmond Hill had fought hard to achieve.
However, there has been some concern expressed recently that the hard fought changes for the new LPAT will be eroded putting us right back to where we were with the old OMB . The provincial government has now cancelled a part of LPAT that gave support to citizens and groups that wanted to launch an appeal of a planning application but did not necessarily have the expertise to navigate an appeal (for a good account of these changes visit https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/doug-ford-closing-local-planning-appeal-support-centre-1.5029624 )
The Provincial government is also currently undertaking a “governance review” of a number of Regional municipalities including York Region. It is not clear what the outcome of this review will be, but there have been several scenarios floated – everything from amalgamating Richmond Hill so it no longer exists, to simply streamlining some of the practices within the Region of York but keeping municipalities in tact. It is clear that anything we can do to save the tax payer money should be done. I suspect that there can be savings found during this governance review, and a periodic review with this goal in mind is crucial.
What I believe we do not want to see however are changes that eliminate unique communities like Richmond Hill, and all of the work and investment that these communities have made for their citizens over time. I also would not accept any changes that would erode local democracy and the ability for citizens to conveniently participate in the governance of their municipality. It has been a fact that most, if not all, municipal amalgamations that have happened in recent memory have not saved any money for taxpayers, and in some cases have caused an increase in taxation as the larger municipalities end up subsidizing the smaller ones that they amalgamate (an interesting article on Hamilton’s experience with amalgamation from 2014 can be found at https://www.thespec.com/news-story/4312675-amalgamation-brought-fewer-ontario-cities-but-more-city-workers-report-finds/ ). I am also concerned that some of these amalgamations have led to less ability for residents to participate fully in the municipal democratic processes.
As such I would hope that a clear and logical business case would be presented before any changes are made so that we can be sure that these changes will lead to stronger, not weaker, local governments, and our ability to maintain the uniqueness that makes municipalities a strong part of our province. I would be pleased to hear your thoughts on this provincial governance review and I will endeavour to keep residents informed, through this e newsletter, of any developments as they become known.
Ward 4 Councillor Richmond Hill
Banner Photo – Spring Skating on the Mill Pond by Morteza Behrooz