We need a vigorous election campaign for District Chair
There is a letter in one of the local papers this week from an organization called One Muskoka. To the best of my knowledge, they only have a handful of members, but they have been quite vocal in recent years about the need to reduce the size of government in Muskoka. To that extent, I am with them. As they have pointed out, the entire city of Toronto has 44 councillors and Muskoka has 52. It is very hard to defend that.
One Muskoka goes to great lengths to insist that they are not advocating a single governance structure for all of Muskoka, a move that would effectively eliminate local municipalities. But I don’t buy it. In that regard, I fear they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They call themselves One Muskoka. It is difficult to believe that is not what they stand for. They strongly support the election of the District Chair across Muskoka, creating a ‘super mayor’ with a District-wide mandate, a move that will strengthen the argument for those who advocate a single municipal structure for all of Muskoka. As well, a co-founder of One Muskoka, Evelyn Brown, is now Chair of MAHC, our Hospital Board, and she has been very clear in her preference for a single-site hospital in Muskoka. One Muskoka indeed.
In their letter, Denise Cooper and Catherine King, who speak for One Muskoka, are critical of Mayor Bob Young, who is Chair of a committee struck by District Council to review the size of its membership. They quote him as saying, when given this task, “Change is perceived as evil and to be avoided at all costs. I will nonetheless approach the discussion in a positive manner.” Obviously, the authors don’t know sarcasm when they hear it and they certainly don’t know Bob Young, which makes me wonder if they really know what goes on at District. Bob Young, who is Mayor of the Township of Lake of Bays, is very close to a lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to advocating for the reform of District Government. During his years on District Council he has continually challenged the status quo. He knows he has been handed a hopeless task, and that was the nature of his remarks.
In my view, meaningful reform of District Government cannot come from within. The majority of District Councillors are too satisfied with the status quo and the double stipends that go with it. With some notable exceptions, many District Councillors average about ten hours a month on District business which gives them an hourly pay rate of well over $100 an hour! It’s a nice job if you can get it! They may talk the talk, but at the end of the day, Council will not curtail their numbers in a meaningful way and they will likely cling to control of District Council by the Towns, even though the majority of tax dollars come from the Townships.
District Government has become the largest ‘business’ in Muskoka. Centred in Bracebridge, it oversees a bureaucracy of more than 500 employees and a budget in excess of $117 million. It has grown like a weed over the years, and yet Muskoka itself has not grown a square inch. There is no evidence that it operates more efficiently than the local municipalities and some of its jurisdiction simply makes no sense. Why, for instance, should a District Councillor from Honey Harbour in Georgian Bay Township have a vote on whether Brunel Road in Huntsville can be temporarily closed for a community event?
The election at large of the Chair of Muskoka District Government, in spite of its drawbacks, may have a silver lining. It may become the forum through which the role of District Government and the importance of the lower tier municipalities in Muskoka can be discussed and debated. We need to deliver services in our local communities in a manner that promotes efficiency, avoids duplication and minimizes bureaucracy.
In that sense, it would be good to have a vigorous campaign when it comes to the election of the District Chair. That will only happen if good and experienced people, who believe in the importance of local government, step forward as candidates. Word has it that John Klinck, the current Chair of Muskoka District Council will seek another term. He may well hope that the expense of running a District-wide campaign will discourage other candidates and that he would win by acclamation. But that must not happen.
With the election of the District Chair at large, the winner, by definition, will become the senior elected municipal official in Muskoka. We may not see it now, but it will make a difference. It is important, therefore, that we have candidates for that position who are prepared and able to deal with the hard issues related to the delivery of local municipal services in Muskoka. The status quo is too expensive and too bureaucratic and overloaded with politicians. We need a healthy discussion about District Government in Muskoka and an election campaign for the District Chair might be just the place to have it. Hopefully, there are potential candidates out there that feel the same way.
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