Amalgamation may be back on the table, but only for two cities
January 08, 2010
BY TERRY PENDER, RECORD STAFF
KITCHENER — Amalgamation may be back on the local political agenda, but only for two cities.
Councillors for Kitchener and Waterloo will be asked Monday to support a referendum, to be included in this fall’s municipal elections, about holding merger talks between their two cities.
High-tech executives are scheduled to appear as delegations in both Kitchener and Waterloo with a simple request — that both city councils ask the Ontario government for permission to include a single question on this fall’s ballots.
The question: “Would you support members of council engaging in a dialogue about the merits of merging the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo? Yes or No.”
Unlike previous attempts at amalgamating the eight municipal governments of Waterloo Region, this one focuses solely on the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo.
The latest group to push for the talks includes Ian Klugman of Communitech and Tim Jackson of Tech Capital Partners. Part of the push includes an open letter delivered earlier this week to the mayors and councils of Kitchener and Waterloo and signed by more than 50 leaders in business and the arts, including Sandvine president Dave Caputo, Open Text executive chair Tom Jenkins, David Marskell, executive director of the Waterloo Region Children’s Museum and Jamie Grant, general manager of the Centre in the Square.
“I suspect there will be some questions but I also suspect there will be some support,” Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr said in an interview Thursday.
“How can you say ‘no’ to engaging in some dialogue?” Zehr said.
In the 1990s, the Conservative government under then-premier Mike Harris forced amalgamations in Sudbury, Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton, among other cities. But that government would not force the issue in Waterloo Region.
In 2006, a push for amalgamation came from a group called Citizens for Better Government. That, too, was unsuccessful in advancing the issue among the region, the three cities and the townships.
This latest move is focused solely on Kitchener and Waterloo.
Zehr is on board all the way — holding a referendum, holding talks and creating one city out of two.
“If we cannot have a one-tier system, then at a minimum, Kitchener and Waterloo should look at merging, because it makes eminent sense,” Zehr said.
In Waterloo, Coun. Mark Whaley gets excited about “extending Waterloo’s borders to the 401.”
When Whaley was first elected in 2003, the two cities were not co-operating.
“Today, we have almost 60 joint service initiatives,” Whaley said, “and I have voted for every one of them.”
Holding a referendum and then merger talks is a natural evolution, he said.
“We are talking about a dialogue on merging our cities to provide better services,” Whaley said.
Whaley does not want to see the current push for a municipal merger get bogged down in holding talks with municipalities that are not interested in even talking about it.
“Why try to partner with people who do not want to partner with you?” Whaley said.
Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig has been one of the most vocal opponents of amalgamation into a megacity. Craig and his council were not included in a letter from those pushing for the merger of Kitchener and Waterloo.
The open letter delivered to council members said, in part:
“How effective is our messaging to regional, provincial and national audiences? Are we maximizing our potential for provincial and national funding and for investment attraction? Is our current twin city structure the right plan for ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future?”
“Past efforts to address these questions have yielded no conclusive community viewpoint because the discussion has never properly begun. The only way to have this important conversation about our future is to give it the attention it requires, warrants and deserves — by asking the Province of Ontario to create the environment required for effective dialogue and debate through posing a direct question to the people of both cities during the 2010 municipal election,” says the letter.