One Muskoka is not for Huntsville ~ Hugh Holland


Here we go again. Gord Adams is running for District Chair and is trying to get headlines by resurrecting the One Muskoka idea.

There would be three models to consider: Total centralization of district government as proposed by Mr. Adams, decentralization with each municipality on its own, and the hybrid model we have now with District responsible for some services and the six municipalities responsible for others.

The question is, is there really a net gain to once again pay municipal staff to engage (with consultants) in months if not years of organizational studies to the detriment of their regular work?

Muskoka is not Toronto. The unique geography and population facts of Muskoka region continue to dictate a need for 17 schools, three OPP stations, six fire stations, 15 banks, 12 grocery stores, eight LCBO stores, two Home Depots, two Canadian Tires, three Boston Pizzas, and two hospitals to provide for the needs of 150,000 people (70,000 permanent and 80,000 seasonal, many of which are property owners).

Certainly it is possible to show that having one OPP station, one fire station, etc. would result in lower internal costs than multiple sites, but such an evaluation ignores the external costs imposed on the public by longer response times and increased travel time and fuel for thousands of customers.

The external costs would add up to several times the savings in internal costs.  It was cheaper to make electricity from coal. But the provincial government looked beyond the internal costs of Ontario Hydro and eliminated coal-based electricity out of consideration for the external costs that using coal imposed on health care (respiratory diseases) and the environment.

Where would a One Muskoka administration be located?  No matter where you locate it, at least 50 per cent of the population would have to travel an additional one-hour round-trip to pay their taxes, get a permit, or provide citizen input at a public meeting.  Would South Muskoka people be happy to drive to Huntsville, the largest town, or vice versa?  Would there be a new municipal campus built in Port Sydney, the geographic centre that would be very costly and equally inconvenient for everyone? Quite likely Mr. Adams envisions the headquarters remaining in Bracebridge. Municipal staff would have to travel an additional one hour round trip to go to work at, or to inspect a job site. If several office locations and maintenance shops were to be maintained, where are the savings?

Cost is one thing, but the biggest casualty of One Muskoka would be democracy itself. There is no question that the time and cost of travelling to a single municipal office would greatly reduce the citizen input that makes decisions more acceptable to the public. People get behind and support ideas they had a part in formulating.  People are more likely to resist, resent, and complain about decisions they had no part in forming, but were imposed by a remote bureaucracy.

A One-Muskoka administration might work for Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, but what about the other four parts of Muskoka? The biggest things the District does for Huntsville is to manage water, sewer and garbage, and some roads; all of which are physically separate from the other parts of Muskoka.  Without the cost of District membership, Huntsville could easily hire the same consultants and contractors that the District hires to do that workA One Muskoka movement would quickly spawn a Hexit (Huntsville Exit) movement and I for one would be among the first to join it.

Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.

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  1. Seems I am on Tram Hugh’s with this one. However if change must happen (must it?), I would favour option #1; go back to just lower tier municipalities, no District.
    I note there is no discussion about a 4th option; that is 2 municipalities, i.e. North Muskoka and South Muskoka.

    • You’re right, Debi and Hugh. I never saw why we had to have another layer of government–with all of the enormous funding demands that just serve to siphon money away from the towns. All it does is make the citizenry have even less ability to have input on the decisions which affect their lives and cost them more money in their tax bills. Was it a meant as a make work program for friends of the provincial government? The very high salaries that the bureaucrats make come right out of our collective hides. How is it fair that a construction worker, who works hard in the winter snow and cold and the summer heat, making barely $60,000 a year (if that much) and then he has to pay ever increasing property tax to support yet another layer of government? To add insult to injury, the construction worker or working owner notes that the various layers of government are comprised of fat cat bureaucrats who make at least twice as much as he does, along with all the benefits of being a government worker. When the construction worker doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid, unlike the bureaucrat who gets his generous sick pay, annual holiday, etc.

  2. Right on Huhg!! Instead of One Muskoka it should be “ONE HUNTSVILLE”!! I found it hard to fathom how a district councillor from eg Bala ( no disrespect intended) had a vote on whether or not Huntsville could have closure of its Main Street or any other decision on its affairs. There must be lot of duplication in staff and regulations by having a two tier governance. I’m sure we (Huntsville) can have enough expertise within our own staff.

  3. Terry McCaffery on

    I could not agree with more, Mr. Holland! As you referenced, Muskoka is just too large and disparate a region to have one large bureaucratic entity to effectively and efficiently govern it. I agree with Ms. Davis that the municipal tier of governance is preferable to the multitiered system we now have in place!

    • On our streets today ,I see a district pick-up with employees doing some road work followed by a town of Huntsville truck patching pot holes both driving the same roads.

      Same thing in winter,District truck with plow down followed by Huntsville truck with plow up.

      Try to change a simple by-law on a district road takes 9 months first thru town council then has to be approved by district council then ratified .

      All this duplication going on with no comunication between the two governing forces.

      To top it all off the spring sweeping of sand in Port Sydney was a complete GONG SHOW headed up by the Town of Huntsvilles own Roads department Exectutive. I sent an e-mail to the Mayor about this and got no reply from him or his excecutive secretary .

      I for one wouldn’t know which way to vote. One Muskoka or One Huntsville its quite clear these two governing groups do not communicate with each other. So now one of them has to go.

  4. Folks there are a lot of online tools to use that would help with all the travel times and cost issues .. ie skype,e-mail services and communication, all the social tools, online forms and online approvals,online payment services, online voting, many many meeting tools .. etc etc. If we as a community or area do not want to step up and make things cheaper and more efficient … we will be stuck in a time warp with the ” same old same old” way of doing things and nothing will help with cost control. I would suggest a referendum on the issue or a very detailed study to address all issues and all concerns both pro and con that takes into account the now and the future! You can’t bury you head in the sand and ignore reality and continue to fight ALL change via ‘one’ newspaper article that is ‘one’ sided, ‘one’ person speaking for ‘one’ area of MUSKOKA! A total area citizen democratic vote is required to determine ‘next steps’.

    • Bob, I would never throw the baby out with the bathwater. Similarly though, A District-wide referendum without educating the populace, would be meaningless. All of which leads to the “very detailed study” which you suggest.
      Of course, an objective study would have to be undertaken by a consultant; hired by the District, and therefore, already predisposed to the “One Muskoka” alternative. Yet again, our taxes pay for a consultant and a tainted report.
      Will the results of a referendum differ markedly after our quasi-education? Methinks not. Voters in general are seldom happy about decisions handed down from either Ottawa or Queens’ Park: why would they be any happier with decisions from a central Muskoka government?

      • Rob …. First … I would assume you would follow up on this issue or any issue … and .. make sure you understand and know what you are doing with your vote! .. and .. if you don’t that is your (their) problem! People have to accept they have a responsibility to know what they are doing via impact and consequence.
        2nd .. I would ensure if a referendum was to be done that is from an unbiased 3rd party with no biases! And that is easy to do with search tools and asking question about WHO is doing the study and who they know and who they don’t know! This would ensure that “our taxes pay for a consultant” are well spent and we will not get “a tainted report.”
        3rd … THEY .. the people of Muskoka would be very happy “with decisions from a central Muskoka government” via stating and documenting objectives and mandate of proposed decisions from a central Muskoka government ie examples ..lower taxes, better roads, efficient and cheaper services and procedures, a sensibly and agreed upon voting structure with adequate ‘area’ representation with a well documented decision & conflict resolution processes, etc etc ..and .. of course a measurement process of the objectives and mandates to ensure they are being met and … to ensure they are accountable and responsible to the voting people of muskoka.

  5. J. R. Bruce Cassie on

    Hugh is a valued voice of reason, intelligence and commitment. Nobody brings more depth of research, education and experience to these matters than our local treasure does. As you focus on yet another topic of importance to all of us, Hugh, I salute your astute analysis. Absolutely on point.

    I challenge those who think an administrative office south of Huntsville will serve the needs of Huntsville better than what can happen when decisions are made close to the source. It is easy for those with no skin in the game to pontificate about one model versus another; however, try moving forward with major construction and residential building projects, an one example, and one quickly learns that it takes years rather than months; it costs mega-thousands rather than responsible expenditure; and it leaves local employees in the cold when they could be gainfully employed. The system doesn’t work as it is and moving all decision making to one administrative site would be worse for construction agents and builders located outside the chosen site. This is just one example of the lost time and increased expenditure associated with decisions made by over-worked, well-intentioned but locally uninformed agents. I’m still paying those bills.

    Huntsville has the capacity, the players and the will to manage its own future. Bracebridge has the capacity, the players and the will to manage its own future. Similarly, other sites in the region have the same capability. This isn’t a fight with our colleagues and friends elsewhere in Muskoka. It’s a commentary on what will work better than the present governance model. I’m hearing the same discordance that accompanies the rhetoric associated with a one-hospital “solution” and I don’t like the music.

  6. Hugh,

    You have some interesting points to add to the debate. The thought of the Town of Huntsville taking over the responsibilities of the District of Muskoka is, in my opinion, absurd.

    If you look at what you call the “biggest things the District does for Huntsville is to manage water, sewer and garbage, and some roads”, then yes Huntsville could take that over without too much problem. I believe you are understating the other responisiblilties that the District has

    Some other things the District is involved with are:
    -Ontario Works
    -Social Housing
    -Licenced Child care
    -EarlyON programs
    -Emergency services(paramedics)
    -Emergency Management
    -Muskoka Airport
    -The PInes -long term care
    -Provincial Offences Court
    -Affordable housing

    This is not a complete list nor are all these services fully funded by the District of Muskoka. Many of these services are better served by the District, much like our defence is better served by our federal government as opposed to provincial governments. That is how multi-tier goverance works

    A downloading of district responsibilities to the municipalities is a not-starter.


  7. Brian Tapley on

    We have some amazing technology available to us these days. Could we not use it to advantage here?
    For example could we not keep the “local” municipal offices and front line staff like we already have. These are easily accessible and located in the areas that they primarily serve.

    The central economies of being “one” district can remain where it makes sense but be better connected to the smaller service offices offered by the local municipal model.
    With the technical support from a District wide virtual administration it might be possible to move some jobs out to the local municipalities, reduce the physical size of District offices and staff and yet retain the cooperative and coordinated District wide responses we like but mostly administered and actually offered by the smaller local municipal hubs.

    At the end of the day we should have less government, less travel needed both for staff and citizens and a more harmonious relationship between the District wide central government and the local Municipal offices where most citizen transactions will always occur.
    With high speed fiber optic communications it should be possible to share all the necessary data of government and make this accessible at any of the local municipal offices at any time, virtually eliminating many of the needs of the central District Office buildings altogether.

    Just a thought.

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