Niagara currently has the largest number of regional councillors and also the largest total number of councillors serving on both upper and lower tiers based on a comparison of municipal structures across Ontario. This is due in part because Niagara also has the largest number of constituent municipalities and one of the largest gaps in size between the largest and smallest constituent municipalities. These facts are strong drivers of the total number of councillors. First, the large number of lower tier councillors is driven to a significant extent by the number of municipalities. There are provisions in the Municipal Act, 2001 under which a municipality – by local initiative – can alter the composition of its council, including changes to the size of council, membersʼ titles, and the method of election. The provisions apply to all municipalities except for regional municipalities, which can only make changes to their councils if authorized to do so by a regulation made by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in response to a request by the region
There was an overwhelming expression by surveyed businesses that there was need to very seriously look at governance in Niagara. On average, 80% of businesses surveyed believe that there is a need to re-examine the current governance models. It has been indicated through the research that there is need for greater operational efficiency and effectiveness. Under the Niagara scenario there are 125 elected municipal politicians across the entire region. This includes city/town mayors, regional councillors and city/town councillors. This scenario has significant implications. It is a signal to Niagara that the status quo in as far as governance may no longer be an option and seriously revisiting governance reform is key to the efficient management of resources and strategically leveraging opportunities. A scan of regional governance models across Ontario of similar size to Niagara demonstrates that there are options that can be developed that preserve the principles of representation by population within a more streamlined governance model leading to more effective government.
Simply put, the impetus for re-alignment came from the need for more dynamic decision making that can maximise opportunities. In fact, when looking at the jurisdictions in Ontario that have implemented governance reform, these jurisdictions have seen a greater than average real assessment growth over the last five years. Specifically, the Regional Municipality of Halton, City of Hamilton, and the Regional Municipality of York, have seen annual increases of approximately 5% on average. This has been attributed to a variety of factors:
- Reduced compliance time due to great coordination of policy development
- Coordinated approaches to key business services such as business retention and expansion as well as attraction
Governance reform has been discussed several times in Niagara. Since the creation of the Regional Municipality of Niagara in 1970, there have been a number of reports and studies related to governance models. The timeline below illustrates the reports that have been developed in the past:
- 1975 – 1977 – Report concluded that in order to operate effectively, the regional system required better coordination and communication.
- 1989 – Kitchen Report presented a series of recommendations on topics including revenue issues, Regional Council composition, Police Commission, boards and agencies, public works, planning, economic development and communication.
- 1995 – Government of Ontario introduced Savings and Restructuring Act which amended the Municipal Act to allow municipality or local body to make proposals for restructuring. Municipalities in Niagara formalized various proposals for submission.
- 2000 – Berkley Consulting Group Report “Good Governance for the Future” concluded it would be ideal to have a single tier, 3 or 4 city model for Niagara.
- 2002 – As municipalities were preparing responses to the Berkeley Report the provincial government indicated it was shifting its attention away from municipal restructuring and opportunities for boundary changes, amalgamations and annexations diminished.
- 2009 – Region votes to have a moratorium on governance discussion for entire term of council
Although final decisions on municipal re-alignment are a provincial responsibility, Niagara must take an active role in creating a ʻmade in Niagaraʼ solution to the governance issue. There have been years of comprehensive studies and evaluation of governance options as the chronology above demonstrates. The time has come to act. Niagara cannot afford the status quo – we must create a governance model that reflects Niagara in the 21st century – and for that we will need strong leadership. In order to achieve this, the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) believes that there are 2 key reforms that need to be implemented:
- A directly elected Regional Chair
- Double-Direct election of Councillors
Directly Elected Regional Chair
When Ontario regions were created in the 1970s, the first regional chairs were appointed by the province, but the system going forward was meant to be like the county system in that the regional chairs would be selected by councillors. However, regional chairs were given more leadership ability than the wardens because regional chairs are selected for the full term of council. Current legislation provides that Regional Council, at its first meeting after a municipal election, shall elect a Regional Chair. Niagara Region has adopted a policy that the Regional Chair will be elected from among the 30 persons who have been elected to Regional Council in the just completed municipal elections. Over time there has been a movement from selection by councillors to popular election of regional chairs. The regions of Halton and Waterloo currently have an elected regional chair, and Hamilton-Wentworth had this system before it was amalgamated into a single-tier system. In October 2010, electors in the Region of Durham voted to have their regional chair elected at-large. This change will take place in the next regional election in 2014. However, in other regions such as Peel and York, councillors continue to select their chairs at the first meeting of council. These regions differ from Niagara in that they have not adopted the tradition of requiring that the chair be an elected member of council.
The Regional Chair represents Regional Council and, in our case, the Niagara region at meetings with area municipalities, other regional chairs and with ministers of the Crown in both Toronto and Ottawa. As regionalism becomes a significant factor in economic growth, other jurisdictions have found that having an at-large elected Regional Chair adds further weight to the ʻone-voiceʼ approach to regionalism.
Double-Direct Elected Councillors
Three examples that strengthen the case for a more effective, streamlined form of governance in Niagara are York Region, Durham Region and Halton Region. York Region has a 21-member council that sets policies, budgets and direction using a “double-direct” form of elected representation (an elected candidate from the nine lower tier municipalities holds a seat on both regional and local council). Compared to Niagara – with its 31 member council – Yorkʼs double direct approach allows for a reduction in seats at the regional level, and ensures a more integrated form of governance with full time councillors that represent constituents at the local and regional level.
Durham Region undertook a review of its governance model in 1996 that led to the reduction of overall seats from 32 to 28 members. Durham also allowed its candidates to run under a double-direct form of elected representation or to run as a local councillor only. Finally, the Region of Halton has a 21-member council with representatives that are elected as both a regional and local councillor with an additional option for candidates to run for local seats only. This system has proven to provide greater cross communication between regional and local councils. It is important to note that in each case, the governance model was designed to improve efficiencies in government, address gaps in communication between levels and to provide constituencies with accountability in government representation.
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) recommends the following:
- That Regional Council approves the direct election of a Regional Chair and that appropriate notification be provided to the provincial government for implementation in time for the 2014 Municipal Election.
- That Regional Council establish the provision and formula for a double-direct election system in Niagara for implementation in time for the 2014 Municipal Election.