By Kevin Werner, News Staff
A Universityof Western Ontario associate political science professor will be talking about the impact amalgamation has had on Hamilton, and the rest of the provincial communities that were merged during the former Progressive Conservative Premier Mike Harris regime.
The announcement was made to the surprise of most people by Mayor Bob Bratina during his State of the City address Jan. 8 before 300 people on the 21st floor of the Stelco Tower. Chief of Staff Peggy Chapman was at the time preparing a news release to inform the media about the professor’s work. The conference was scheduled for Jan. 8 at the Sheraton Hotel.
Bratina refused to provide further details during his speech or to the media about amalgamation that was to be presented by Dr. Tim Cobban.
But Bratina during his 2010 mayoral campaign did suggest he would look into the possibly of de-amalgamating the municipalities. The suggestion of de-amalgamation did catch some interest in some rural areas, including Flamborough and Glanbrook which put up a long-time resistance to amalgamating their communities to the city.
Bratina did point out during his nearly hour-long speech and subsequent question and answer session in front of about 300 people that a “new dynamic” needs to be created between municipalities and provincial and federal governments. He talked about the failed “top down” proposals senior levels of government foist upon municipalities which don’t have the money to properly operate the services or programs that are dropped onto the shoulders of cities and towns.
“We have to rebalance this tripartite relationship,” he said. “The biggest top down or cookie cutter solution to municipal governance problems in recent memory was the amalgamation of 2001.”
Ward 2 councillor Brian McHattie, who attended the breakfast speech, and who is also running for mayor, said he was “surprised” by the mayor’s announcement.
“Council is not aware of (the amalgamation research paper) at all,” said McHattie. “I haven’t heard anybody else that is aware of it. Was it paid for by city dollars? That’s just a little bit irresponsible at this point in time 10-12 years into putting a city together. That was a very difficult debate.”
Cobban, who has studied municipal governance structures, presented a paper titled “Did the Common Sense Revolution Reduce the Size of Municipal Government in Ontario” with a graduate student at a conference last year inQuebecthat analyzed the benefits of reducing 850 Ontario municipalities down to 445. In his paper, Cobban found amalgamation “did not reduce the size of government.”
The paper also found that the municipal public sector increased during the period, something the Harris Common Sense Revolution didn’t foresee, and hoped wouldn’t happen.
“(The Mike Harris government) did indeed reinvent municipal government, but in a direction opposite to its stated intent,” the paper says.