Glad I wasn’t elected
I doubt that any members of Uxbridge’s new council knew they were about to be elected to a job that immediately became almost impossible to do. Had I been elected in last October’s voting, by now I would be pulling my hair out in frustration.
Apparently, because Doug Ford failed in his attempt to become mayor of Toronto, he’s decided that, as premier, he’s going to be mayor of all the municipalities. And that’s what is making it so hard for our local councillors to do their jobs.
Take the budget. First they look at what must be spent and, although one might haggle over a few relatively minor things that are included, generally speaking township budgets don’t inflate that much.
Then they look at where the revenue comes from to pay for the expenditures: obviously property taxes, but also development charges, fees for licences and services, user pay services, hall and facility rentals and so on. But there are also government grants and transfers, such as the annual payment received from the province under the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. That transfer has been diminishing every year for the last few years and the township has had to take measures to cover the loss. But at least council always knew at budget preparation time how much they were going to receive.
However, this year, at the last minute, while every municipality in the province was preparing its budget, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli let them know the transfer payments were being held back; they’re being reviewed and he’ll let everyone know what’s what when he’s ready. Kind of a perverse way of saying “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
But council can’t carry on with the budget, at least with any degree of confidence, if the Ford government is withholding vital information.
So councillors, to all intents and purposes, must have difficulty doing that part of the job.
Nevertheless, they sally forth, attempting to deal with other township business, except that all of them must have a nagging thought at the back of their heads that they possibly could be doing it all in vain. With the Ford government calling for a review – (and a quick one at that) – of the way the province’s regional governments and the municipalities that lie within those regions operate, no one should be surprised if Uxbridge doesn’t have its own council a short ways down the road. How difficult must it be for councillors to talk about whether the township should or should not adopt some new policy or support or oppose some newly proposed project, when they know it’s quite possible their decisions won’t mean anything in a short while?
So councillors, to all intents and purposes, have difficulty doing that part of the job.
Stalwarts ever, they press on, looking past the ominous rumblings coming out of Fordor, and hold a three-hour strategy meeting last Friday. The councillors talked about priorities and goals and how to reach those goals and the overriding theme, written in black marker on a display board, was: “How are our constituents impacted?” Facilitator Colleen Baskin asked them to talk about the township’s strengths with the caution: “We don’t want to take something for granted and lose it.”
And the councillors, aided when needed by CAO Ingrid Svelnis, clerk Debbie Leroux and treasurer Donna Condon, really got into it. It was almost as though they were determined to have a road map and a plan ready for their constituents, even if they are never used. They even talked about future major projects, such as the proposed new Uxpool.
How their hearts must have sunk on Monday when MP Jennifer O’Connell cast doubt on that project’s future with the information that the Ford government might not be willing to pick up a share of the tab for the pool. She said the federal government is ready to pony up its portion, but the provincial government is not accepting applications for infrastructure agreements: e.g. new Uxpools.
So, even when they’re just trying to prepare a road map and a plan that might or might not be used, they’re stymied, because whatever conclusion they came to in their strategic planning concerning the new Uxpool, it doesn’t, apparently, matter any more.
I know the province has legal jurisdiction over municipalities, but this is getting ridiculous. A couple of years ago, a lot of members of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario – Uxbridge included – joined together to force the Wynne government to end the hated Ontario Municipal Board. It seems to me that united front needs to rise again to protect our municipalities from disappearing. As Ms. Baskin said: “We don’t want to take something for granted and lose it.”
Tell me, am I wrong?