The alphabet soup of reforming municipal government

For years, municipal politicians have complained about being lackeys of the provincial government. Feelings of frustration among local politicians have some justification.
Most services that impact you and me day-by-day are delivered by municipal governments. But provincial politicians decide on the programs and make the rules. It’s been a province-wide “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Municipal governments deliver those services. Guess who is on the firing line when people get angry?
It’s all changing. Instead of playing delivery boy, municipal governments will be service managers. Councils will shape and manage services according to local needs.
They also will raise the money to pay for them.
Why is all this happening? In the rapidly-changing information age, centralized bureaucracies are too slow and costly. Decentralization is in. The provincial government wants a smaller, less costly government where control is closer to the people.
While not without controversy, exchanging services between the province and the municipalities is simple. But what to do about the significant population who live outside organized municipalities? As provincial services disappear, how are they to be served and pay their fair share?
Southern Ontario has a network of counties; the north doesn’t. The province decided something like county government is needed so it decided to create area service boards (ASB) in the north’s 10 districts.
Though service management would change, taxes would stay the same.
In this time of participation, how can anyone argue with this plan? No one did until they had to deal with the question of how to set up the boards.
Maybe it was political smarts or maybe it was cowardice or maybe it was a philosophy. The provincial government told municipal councils and people in unorganized areas, “Get together and figure out what you want and then tell us. As long as it meets these broad criteria, you’ve got it.”
There were squabbles about who should participate in planning ASBs, and about board representation. There was confusion about what ASBs will do. Some believed ASBs are a tax grab. Anxiety was high, especially in the unorganized areas.
Despite all that, the process moved along. Deadlines were set. Proposals were made.
Then the process hit a wall. The provincial government failed to pass the law needed to set up ASBs. Now what?
Likely some smart civil servant found a way out. In southern Ontario, the government created District Social Service Administrative Boards (DSSABs) to look after welfare, child care, and social housing. The law already was on the books.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) borrowed that law temporarily to get the ASBs going under the guise of a DSSAB (talk about alphabet soup!) Follow me so far? There’s more.
The province says that by March 31 the DSSABs have to take on the three services mentioned earlier. Then when the ASB law is passed, DSSABs can be converted to ASBs.
Representatives of municipal councils are mad. They submitted ASB proposals. They think they are ready to go even if the authorizing law hasn’t been passed.
Representatives of unorganized areas are glad. They believe DSSABs are simpler and less costly than the municipal proposals. As well, with a DSSAB in place, all the stakeholders will have time to shape the ASB so it does what everyone wants.
Democracy is never simple. The challenge to representatives of municipalities and unorganized areas is to work together to develop a community of interest.
If they do, they will have fulfilled a fundamental tenet of democracy–satisfy the will of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority.

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