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 work. A 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.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free newsletter here.