Kitchener-Waterloo

Need for an 'adult conversation' on regional governance, councillor-elect Michael Harris says

Kitchener regional councillor-elect Michael Harris says it's a good idea for the region to discuss reforms, but he said he won't be raising it as a top issue when he officially starts his term on Dec. 5.

'It’s one of the conversations I know that we’ll likely end up having,' Harris says

Former MPP Michael Harris was elected regional councillor for Kitchener in the October municipal election. He says a new term of council is a good time to talk about governance reforms, but adds he won't be raising the issue when he starts his term on Dec. 5. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

A new term of council is a good time to talk about the Region of Waterloo's governance structure, says councillor-elect Michael Harris.

Last week, Harris was on a panel on TVO's The Agenda, which included three other politicians who were MPPs prior to the June election but either didn't run again or lost their seats.

The four politicians have all now been elected at the municipal level.

Harris, who served as an MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga, but did not run in the June provincial election after he was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus, was elected a regional councillor in Kitchener in the October municipal election. He will begin his term on Dec. 5.

During the half-hour conversation, Harris mentioned the "belt-tightening" by the province is "an opportunity for municipalities to also look from within to say, 'how can we become more efficient.'

"Clearly, we have a two-tier government in our region. There may be some discussions where that will lead during this mandate provincially," Harris said during the program.

"I think it's incumbent on municipal leaders to have that adult conversation on their governance structure and how to better serve their constituents and be more efficient. You know, we have to stretch every dollar as far as we can and ensure the cost of governance is a big part of that."

'We'll likely be forced to have this conversation'

In clarifying his comments to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo on Monday, Harris said he does not want to do away with the cities or townships.

But, he noted, "we'll likely be forced to have this conversation" if the province moves ahead with a review of regional governments.

In July, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark said the provincial government would undertake a review of regional governments "across the province."

The statement was made when Clark and Premier Doug Ford announced the Better Local Government Act, the initial law passed by the province tabled to slash the size of Toronto city council seats in half. That was later replaced with the Efficient Local Government Act.

In July, Clark said the province would "take a long look at regional government across the province — where things have worked and where things haven't — to figure out what we can do better. We'll start this review informally in our discussions at the upcoming AMO conference and will follow up with something more formal in the fall."

Those formal details have yet to be released by the province.

On Monday, Clark's press secretary said the review will still happen, with the goal " to ensure that local governments are working well and supporting the future economic prosperity of their local residents and businesses."

The statement said more details are expected in the "near future." 

Not the most pressing agenda item

The conversation of regional reform, whether forced by the province or not, is a good chance to talk about spending, Harris said.

Harris referred to comments made previously by current Regional Chair Ken Seiling, when Seiling has said past regional government reviews have strengthened the roles of counties and regions in delivering services.

"It's something I think politicians should be having at least a conversation on. It won't be the only thing, of course. It is not the most pressing of agenda items likely to be dealt with by this particular council going forward, but it's one of the conversations I know that we'll likely end up having," Harris said, but added he won't be pressing his fellow councillors to discuss it right away.

"I don't have any intentions of bringing forward any such motion right now, but I can tell you that it's likely something that's on people's minds going forward into this next term."

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