On December 13th the Harris Government introduced Bill 25, the long awaited Municipal Restructuring Bill, in the legislature. This Bill will create a single, new, much larger City of Ottawa using the present boundaries of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton.
This issue has been hotly debated for a long time in this region, and although there will always be competing visions for the future of the area, there was a consensus by most that a more streamlined form of local government was necessary. The expanded boundaries and single tier of governance will be the most prominent features of the new City of Ottawa.
In spite of the fact that both me and my Liberal colleagues are generally in favour of one city, one tier for this region, we have several large problems with the legislation as it has been proposed, and with the way it has been presented. Find below an outline of some of the problems I have with the legislation.
An outrageous proposal is being suggested for taxation in the newly amalgamated region. As a result of the efforts of the Conservative MPP for Nepean, we (the City of Ottawa) will be sharing the value of all our capital assets (City Hall, parts of Lansdowne Park). The problem is that the cost of those assets will be ours and ours alone. In other words, residents of Nepean will benefit from the sale of City Hall ($80 million dollars) and other old City of Ottawa assets. Meanwhile, residents of the old Ottawa will continue to pay for the debt that was incurred to build them. It is as though someone sells your home and reaps the profit while you continue to make the mortgage payments.
Opt out for some
In a bid to please the Conservative MPP for Lanark-Carleton, a few rural townships have been given the option of opting out of the new amalgamation. In my presentation to Glenn Shortliffe, I had recommended that all the rural townships be given this option. Instead, only the lucky few who live within The Tory Minister's riding will be able to opt out.
Glenn Shortliffe recommended that the provincial government make the new city bilingual. The Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton as it stands today, is a bilingual operation that offers services in both official languages. Ottawa has always included a significant minority of francophones, and as the Nation's Capital it symbolizes our country, which has two official languages. The Provincial Government should recognize Ottawa as it already is and declare the new city bilingual.
The legislation for the newly amalgamated city is part and parcel of a single Bill that should really have been broken into at least six, separate pieces of legislation. This single Bill includes legislation that:
- Amalgamates Ottawa-Carleton, greater Hamilton, greater Sudbury, and creates two municipalities in Haldimand-Norfolk;
- Radically changes Toronto City Council;
- Grants a special clause to the Harris Cabinet to amend their own legislation without coming before the legislature; and,
- Provides for the forming of a municipal restructuring commission in any area where there are only 75 signatures collected for that purpose.
Needless to say this Bill is an affront to the democratic process. Such large and far-reaching legislation should never be passed as one Bill.
In sum, I am disappointed that I cannot support Bill 25, which will make us one city. It is my hope that Provincial Government will bring forward legislation that deals with the problems I have outlined above.