Newly elected Premier Doug Ford sent shockwaves through Muskoka this morning by announcing that the position of District Municipal chair will not be elected at large.
The position was expected to be listed on the ballot in the upcoming October municipal election, giving voters the ability to choose the District chair for the very first time. Ford’s announcement would mean that the process will revert to the status quo, whereby District councillors would be the ones choosing the chair.
District Chair John Klinck said his phone has been ringing off the hook since Ford’s announcement. He said while he disagrees with the timing of the announcement—today is the last day that candidates wanting to run can put their name forward—he is in favour of a reduction in government. Ford’s announcement includes changing Toronto’s boundaries and council composition from 47 to 25 representatives. What Klinck said he took exception with is Ford’s statement that there’s a culture of waste and mismanagement in municipal governance. “I believe Muskoka’s approach to service delivery and certainly the atmosphere, culture of fiscal prudence is in evidence and the numbers would support that in terms of our financial statements, our credit rating improvements and all of that,” said Klinck.
Ford’s announcement will benefit Klinck in the long run. Both candidates who have announced that they’d be running against him this October have now indicated that they’d be dropping out of the race if they had to run under the old system.
“The reason I was running was to bring real reform to District government which I believe is out of control,” said former Huntsville Mayor Hugh Mackenzie, who believes the size of the regional government needs to be reduced. “In order to do that I would need a mandate from across the District and without that mandate I wouldn’t have been able to bring about that reform so there’s no point in running,” he said. Mackenzie served as District chair in the early 1980s.
Gord Adams, who served as District chair for more than 10 years before losing to current District chair John Klinck in 2010, said he would also not be running under the status quo.
He said his intention was to get a mandate from all of Muskoka to move forward with a single-tier governance model. He said District government has become parochial and dysfunctional.
“What the Liberal government had put in place was a democratic election of the District chair in Muskoka and Peel and Halton and there are other regions where they already are directly elected, have been for several elections—he’s not changing those, so clearly what’s good for one isn’t good for the other,” said Adams of Ford’s announcement. “It’s a blow for democracy in Muskoka,” he added. Adams tried to change the governance model in 2010 while he was still District chair but could not get the majority support he needed.
The Province is expected to pass legislation—the Better Local Government Act—regarding today’s announcement by the Premier sometime next week.
There is already talk of legal action being mounted and led by Toronto Mayor John Tory due to the timing of the announcement in the middle of a municipal election and the lack of consultation. But the Province regulates municipalities and whether such an action materializes or is even successful remains to be seen.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.