North explores performance measures

Most services that impact you and me day-by-day are delivered at the local government level.
Provincial politicians used to decide on the programs and make the rules. Municipal governments dispensed them.
But it’s all changing fast. Instead of playing delivery boy, municipal governments are now service managers. Councils shape services according to local needs.
They also have to raise the money to pay for them.
Why is all this happening?
Centralized bureaucracies became too slow and costly. Decentralization is in. We want smaller, less costly government with control closer to the people.
While not without controversy, exchanging services between the province and the municipalities is relatively simple. Much harder is finding ways to provide the services at less cost and with better control.
It’s a big challenge, not only because the financial resources really are much reduced. The “Blame Factor” also has shifted.
It’s easy to agree that the bureaucrats at Queen’s Park don’t understand us. “They” are too far away to grasp how different northern issues and needs are from southern urban ones.
“They” get the priorities wrong.
Now “they” have become “we.” How do we decide what services are most important? How do we ensure good stewardship of the limited local resources?
Some people in town want the potholes fixed for good, or the water plant upgraded. Others think library services are more important. Still others believe the town administration staff is too large or too small.
Everyone has a pet peeve and priority.
It’s a big challenge. It also is a higher quality of participatory democracy–when we can make it work.
Ontario’s north intends to!
May 18-20 will see the Northern Workshop on Measuring Municipal Performance at Quetico Centre. It will bring together reeves and mayors, municipal councillors, and administrative staff from Northwestern and Northeastern Ontario, with other experts on municipal issues.
They will explore new concepts and methods in public service. They will hear from people who have used success measures to track quality and cost of local services. They will share their own knowledge and experience.
And they will develop practical answers and action steps suitable for their communities.
Quetico Centre is organizing the workshop in response to new needs but both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and Ministry of Municipal Affairs have major program input.
Chris Hodgson, minister of Northern Development and Mines, has approved funding toward the program. This will enable more people to attend.
Among others, the resource people include Filip Palda (fellow, Fraser Institute) and Larry Grant (principal, Public Strategies Group, St. Paul, Mn.)
Not long ago in this column, I described my experience with a regional planning initiative in Chicago. I mentioned I would prefer to have such an opportunity in my own area.
It’s great to have that chance so soon. AMO president Michael Power delivered the challenge to make this workshop a forerunner and pace-setter for the province.
I think a large group of participants will rise to that challenge.

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