Ken Seiling to head up province's review of Ontario municipalities — including Waterloo region

Former Region of Waterloo chair Ken Seiling will work with Michael Fenn, a former deputy minister under three premiers, on a review of Ontario municipalities.

Seiling says he's 'prepared to give good, professional advice' to the province

Former regional chair Ken Seiling will be helping lead a regional municipal review for the province, it was announced Tuesday. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

Former regional chair Ken Seiling has been tapped by the province to help lead a review of Ontario municipalities.

Seiling, who did not seek re-election last October, will work with Michael Fenn, who is a former deputy minister under three premiers and municipal chief administrator in Hamilton and Burlington.

Seiling was regional chair for 33 years.

CBC News learned the provincial government is launching the review into a total of 82 municipalities. The province hasn't ruled out the possibility that some could be amalgamated in the future. 

Seiling and Fenn will be expected to deliver advice to Steve Clark, the minister of municipal affairs and housing.

Plans in the works for at least a month

Seiling said he's been talking to the province for about a month about the review.

Details of how it will move forward will still need to be ironed out. Local residents and businesses will be consulted about the review this spring, a release said.

The province has conducted municipal reviews before, and Seiling was regional chair while those processes took place. 

"Really, there aren't very many experienced regional chairs ... right now, who have come through a lot of that," he said, speculating on why he was chosen by the province.

"I've worked with all of the governments, regardless of party in the past and have been prepared to give good, professional advice."

When the province announced it would conduct a regional review in July 2018, Seiling said he didn't think much would change in Waterloo region. On Tuesday, when asked if he still thought the region wouldn't see much change, Seiling said he wasn't "offering any opinions."

"I'm supposed to go into this and look at everybody within the system fairly. So I think we'll listen to people, we'll compare our notes and see what happens and give our best professional opinion at the end of the day," Seiling said.

"I've had an interest in regional governance for many years, and so I think this can be an opportunity to take some of that experience and listen to others and see if we can offer some things that improve local governance in Ontario."

Local politicians react

In reaction to the news, Kitchener Coun. Scott Davey tweeted he felt "considerable comforting knowing [Seiling] will be advising" the province.

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry said she was pleased to see Seiling in the role of adviser.

"For Cambridge, we are going to benefit from having one of the special advisers understand our municipality and how our municipality relates to the others in the Region of Waterloo," she said.

"We really don't know anything yet except that the consultation will take place, and we can demonstrate here in Cambridge that we are working collaboratively with the regional government that's been in place and working well for the region for the last three-and-a-half decades."

Regional Chair Karen Redman said she officially learned of the review Tuesday afternoon in a letter from Clark.

"[Seiling is] a voice that people listen to. He's thoughtful, and he has the knowledge," Redman said, adding Fenn also brings a lot of knowledge to the role.

"They come with a very well-rounded approach, knowledge and skill set to deal with what could be a very interesting issue with a whole lot of working parts."

'What is the right number of elected politicians?'

Redman said the review shouldn't focus on cutting the size of councils. The provincial government cut the size of Toronto's city council before the municipal election in October.

Speaking about Toronto in August, Premier Doug Ford said "people want smaller government."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called the move to cut Toronto's council in half undemocratic.

"Whatever happens, it shouldn't start or end with, 'What is the right number of elected politicians?' It needs to focus on: how do we do business better, how do we compete on a global stage, whatever changes are made, whatever the outcomes of the review, do they lead to service improvements?" Redman said.

Consultations with Ontario politicians, bureaucrats, business owners and residents are scheduled to begin sometime in early 2019.

With files from Nick Boisvert