October 17, 2017

The History of Municipal Governance in Muskoka

The Editor:

Muskoka’s residents are faced with three choices. One is to go backwards; another is to remain the same; or, move forward to embrace tomorrow’s complex challenges.

‘Your ONE MUSKOKA Team’ is convinced looking ahead is the only viable option.

Stepping back in time would satisfy the nostalgic impulses of some but has no practical or rational reason behind it. Further, it would be naive to think the Government of Ontario would give that approach any consideration.

In 1969 Donald M. Paterson completed a thorough review of Muskoka’s fragmented municipal structure that was comprised of four towns, three villages, 18 organized townships and three unorganized townships.

Paterson recommended a new structure of one regional government and six area municipalities. That configuration was adopted and has been the foundation for Muskoka’s municipal structure since January 01, 1971.

Unfortunately, the flaws of the Paterson system are significant. They include, but are not limited to the fact the present system has 50 elected and one appointed politicians holding 73 positions in the district  – a large number given that Muskoka’s permanent population is approximately 60,000.

With seven separate municipal structures in existence, the duplicate costs of staffing, advertising, insurance, audits and legal costs would appear to exceed the need.

As well, the existing ward system results in some politicians being elected by acclamation. It also gives equal power to politicians who serve relatively few voters while others represent thousands.

Lastly, conflicting and confusing distinct zoning requirements and development charges between boundaries between area municipalities result in frustration for persons who live and work in Muskoka.

In June, 2000 Phase II of a Muskoka Government Review (Rice Report) was published. This report was in response to a 1999 Government of Ontario initiative to restructure the Province’s municipal governments.

Virtually every aspect of Muskoka’s municipal government system was examined and dissected with five principals in mind: 1) less government; 2) an effective representation system; 3) best value for taxpayer’s dollar; 4) an ability to provide municipal services and municipal resources; 5) and, a supportive environment for job creation, investment and economic growth.

The Phase II committee engaged the services of the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) to further study Muskoka’s governance.

After carefully considering a variety of options it was recommended that Muskoka’s seven municipal governments be consolidated into a single regional structure that would be composed of a mayor and 16 ward councillors.

The CUI concluded that consolidation of Muskoka’s area municipalities into one regional government would result in a cost saving of $4.5 to $5.25 million a year – approximately $50 million to date.

Despite significant support from area ratepayer associations, the general public, cottage associations and a few local politicians, the majority of Muskoka’s municipal politicians voted against change.

Muskoka remains stuck in neutral with seven, overlapping municipal governments and no significant changes in over 40 years.

If you would like study the reports referred to or offer an opinion on Muskoka governance please visit www@onemuskoka.ca .

What is your action plan? Get informed. Talk to your neighbours. Ask for a review.

Your ONE MUSKOKA Team

Mike Provan

Liam Cragg

Evelyn Brown

 

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