4 issues municipal candidates really can't do anything about

Municipal campaigns are all about making promises and voters raising concerns. But these are four issues affecting Waterloo region that people commonly ask about, but candidates really can't do much about.
The region, cities and townships still aren't sure which level of government will be allowed to opt out of pot sales. (Dave Dormer/CBC)

As municipal campaigns heat up ahead of the election on Oct. 22, candidates are putting out platforms and making statements on issues important to voters.

But there are some issues where the candidates can't directly do much right now, despite them being a concern of the electorate.

1. Supervised consumption sites

Supervised consumption sites in Waterloo region have been a top issue, particularly in Cambridge and Kitchener where public health has suggested sites should be set up.

Cambridge council repeatedly rejected the region's suggestions for where sites should be opened.

In August, regional council voted to stop work to open sites. That's because Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott is currently reviewing supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites to see if they "have merit."

In August, a spokesperson for Elliott said there was no exact timeline for the review, but recommendations should "happen in short order."

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2. Amalgamation

The topic of Waterloo region's cities and townships amalgamating — or cities potentially leaving the region — has been debated.

But without direction from the province on the restructuring of municipal governance and boundaries, for now comments and ideas can only be forwarded to the provincial government as suggestions for future consideration. Municipal politicians have no power to make changes. 

Cambridge Coun. Nicholas Ermeta had suggested he'd like to dissolve the regional municipality and create a local services board instead. If amalgamation is forced upon the region by the province, Ermeta said he'd want to see Cambridge leave the region.

Neither are options, outgoing Regional Chair Ken Seiling says.

The province has said it will review regional and municipal councils starting this fall. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark made that announcement in July when the government announced plans to reduce the size of Toronto city council and reversed plans to elect regional chairs in York, Peel, Niagara and Muskoka for the Oct. 22 province-wide municipal elections.

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3. Pot sales

The municipalities and the region are still not sure which level of government would be able to opt out of pot sales.

The provincial government has said it would offer a one-time chance for municipalities to prevent cannabis sales in their area, but has not said when that will happen or which level of government can opt out. A ministry spokesperson said plans for the opt-out are still in the works. 

Recreational marijuana sale and use will become legal on Oct. 17, under new federal legislation. 

The provincial agency will have the monopoly on marijuana sales in Ontario through online distribution. The province has said it will set up a private retail model by April 1, 2019.

Shayne Turner, the director of municipal enforcement services for Waterloo, said there hasn't been clarity from the province but, "Waterloo has been reviewing this issue based on an assumption that the decision to opt out would be left with the lower-tier municipality (city). Obviously, this may change once more information is received from the Province, but this is our assumption at this point."

Even if municipalities opt out of allowing sales, residents would still be able to have it delivered if they purchase marijuana online through the provincially run Ontario Cannabis Store.

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Local politicians can advocate for GO service, but it's up to the province to make it happen. (CBC)

4. Two-way, all-day GO (and GO into Cambridge)

Two-way, all-day GO trains from Kitchener, and GO train service into Cambridge, are big issues for communities where many people take trips into Toronto.

But other than advocate on behalf of residents, there's not much local politicians can do to speed along the process because GO is a provincial service.

As well, politicians have argued there's too much work to be done to built 40 km of track on the Kitchener line between the Mount Pleasant Station in Brampton and Union Station in downtown Toronto.

The previous Liberal government had pledged to have all-day, two-way go in the region by 2024 and announced a deal had been struck with the current owners of the single-track route to create a dedicated passenger line. 

During the election campaign, Premier Doug Ford said his government would "cut all the red tape" and get it done as quickly as possible, but did not provide a timeline.

The previous Liberal government also started a feasibility study to explore using CN tracks to bring GO train service into Cambridge through Guelph.

This week, CBC K-W asked the government whether that feasibility study is still in the works. A statement from Minister of Transportation John Yakabuski's office sent in response stated:

"Our government's plan for the people includes enhanced GO service. With Metrolinx, we are reviewing next steps for GO expansion. We are committed to improving transit across the province to reduce congestion and get people moving," the reply said.

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