On Nov 10, 2003 the people of Victoria County voted to de-amalgamate the City of Kawartha Lakes and return to their former municipal governing structure. In February 2002 Mr. McGuinty stated that "I have committed that a Liberal government will ensure a binding referendum is held to allow local citizens to determine whether or not to dismantle the amalgamated city."
That refendum has been held. The question was clear. The threshold of victory was clear. The result was clear. A majority of people voted "Yes". The majority of wards voted "Yes". The only mayoralty candidate who ran on a "Yes" platform was elected.
1. The Kitchen Commission was imposed on Victoria County by a lower tier municipality. That legislation was used in only 8 Ontario restructurings. It has now been repealed.
·The (lower tier) Township of Emily voted (3-2) to request a Commisioner.
·Only the town of Lindsay supported the request. None of the other 14 municipalities supported the request
·Victoria County Council voted against amalgamation 17 to 6 (November, 1999)
2. Municipalities in Victoria County were already restructuring voluntarily
·Bobcaygeon and Verulam councils voted to amalgamate in 1999. The municipality of Bobcaygeon-Verulam had its inaugural Council meeting in January 2000.
·Laxton-Digby-Longford, Bexley, Somerville Councils had negotiated an amalgamation agreement, which was awaiting the signature of the Minister of Municipal Affairs
·Carden and Dalton Townships had agreed to merge
3. During the 3 months of hearings the people spoke out. Mr. Kitchen ignored them
·Residents filed a record number (613) of written submissions. 74% opposed the single-tier structure
·5 municipalities launched a legal challenge against the process.
4. Disregarding all previous studies, Mr. Kitchen imposed a single tier stucture on a huge, urban-rural area
·Every previous study of restructuring in Victoria County had recommended a two-tier structure
·Mr. Kitchen himself recommended a two-tier structure for Peterborough (where he lives)
·studies have discredited the theories behind large amalgamations. "large and centralized governments will be further removed from their voters, and less able to respond effectively to local needs and choices.... the background assumption that smaller and more numerous jurisdictions provide services at high cost is typically wrong." ... (Robert Bish, C.D.Howe Institute)
·We have been unable to find any credible studies in the western hemisphere over the last 75 years that show municipal amalgamations reduce total expenditures
5. These conclusions have been borne out by the experience of the last three years of the amalgamated "City of Kawartha Lakes".
·There were no net savings from amalgamation. Instead, taxes have risen (aggregate: $11.3 million in 3 years) and continue to rise.
·Tax increases and shifts due to amalgamation exceed even those which could be explained by Current Value Assessment (Hemson Report, 2003)
·Area rating was mandated, but Council voted to remove it for many items because it was too cumbersome to administer
·An auditorís letter to Council, dated March 17, 2003 but in reference to 2001 figures, included 46 pages of comments and concerns. As of the last report, only 100 of 145 recommendations had been dealt with. Many were repeated in the 2002 audit.
6. After the amalgamation, there was a continuing groundswell of protest
·Petitions with 11,000 signatures were presented to the Ontario Legislature. These were presented and signed by many members of the current Liberal government.
·VOCO (Voices of Central Ontario) held a citizens-initiated referendum. 6209 people came out to vote. 96.5% voted "Yes" to restore Victoria County and their municipalities
·To date VOCO has received more than 1500 postcards to forward to the Minister of Muncipal Affairs requesting the restoration of the County and local governments
7. In November 2002 the Minister of Municipal Affairs requested that the de-amalgamation question be put on the November 2003 ballot.
He stated that:
·The process had not been democratic. (We were among the 8 imposed by lower tier municipalities)
·The residents had shown sufficient support for a referendum (the 11,000 signature petition, the citizens-initiated referendum)
·The threshold for success would be the same as any democratic election: 50% plus one of the ballots cast. He said that threshold was sufficient to elect himself, and all members of Council, and must be sufficient for this question too.
8. The Minister appointed a panel to determine the question
·The panel recommended a two-part question. The Minister responded that "the supplementary questions suggested by the advisory team will not bring closure to this debate....I feel there is great potential for a result that is unclear. The question that will be put to voters on the municipal ballot is the following: "Are you in favour of a return to the previous municipal model of government with an upper-tier municipality and 16 lower-tier municipalities?"
·It is clear that the question was carefully worded to ensure that the result would bring closure to the debate. It is also clear that any deviation from this structure, which the people have now chosen, will only serve to prolong the debate.
9. The Minister also outlined the process which would follow a "Yes" vote:
·"If the result of the question is to change the structure, I would expect that the necessary steps could be taken to provide for new municipal elections in 2004 and the councillors elected during the November 10,2003 election would constitute an interim council."
10. De-amalgamation can be a straightforward process
·The former municipal offices are still available. Some now share facilities with libraries.
·Computer records have maintained by former municipality (required because of specific community reserves)
11. The Ontario Liberals promised to honour the referendum
·Premier Dalton McGuinty said in a news interview in Peterborough, and later confirmed in writing, that "the Ontario Liberals believe in local democracy. We believe that the best solutions are local solutions and that local residents should have the right to decide on the future of their municipality... the Ontario Liberal position is to allow a local referendum when there is a substantial demonstration of public support. I stated on my visit to Peterborough in October 2001 that the petition campaign there has clearly met this threshold. A Liberal government will ensure a binding referendum is held to allow local citizens to determine whether or not to dismantle the amalgamated city."
·This is as binding as a referendum can be under Ontario law. Because restructuring is not within municipal jurisdiction, the question cannot be put under municipal referendum legislation. This is why it was put on the ballot as a Ministerís question.
12.The vote was held. The question was clear. The threshold was clear. The result was clear.
·A majority of people voted "Yes". The majority of wards voted "Yes". The only mayoralty candidate who ran on a "Yes" platform was elected.
·In a democratic society, the basis of governing power is the people and the voting process. To deny this is to undermine the values of democracy itself. To ignore or attempt to "interpret" the result of this vote would send the message that your government considers any vote subject to review and rejection by a single person or tribunal, and thus that democracy is meaningless.
13.On February 19, the Minister of Municipal Affairs announced that the Province would not honour the result of a democratic vote, which had been placed on the Municipal ballot by the Province of Ontario.