By MPP Toby Barrett
The interest in recent weeks on restoring historic township names in Norfolk echo some of the heritage principles that helped drive the re-establishment of our traditional two county system over a decade ago.
By the time I arrived at Queens Park as a rookie in 1995, there had been 20 years of studies, petitions, municipal referenda and motions calling for an alternative to the shotgun marriage of Norfolk and Haldimand – two counties and 160 years of history, attached at their border, but as unique and diverse as sand and clay.
Rewinding over a century, the County of Norfolk attained corporate status for municipal purposes in 1849, although it first became a jurisdiction in 1790; Haldimand was incorporated in 1850. For more than 124 years, they co-existed as two, well-established separate counties. They shared a common border, yet were socially and economically remote.
On the Norfolk side you find light sandy soil ideal for tobacco, ginseng, fruit and vegetable. On Haldimand clay the focus is dairy, beef and cash-crop. While Norfolk received a population boost in the 1900’s , by people of European backgrounds, Haldimand’s heritage is more British, Pennsylvania Deutsch and pioneer stock of the late 1700’s and 1800’s.
And so it was, good neighbours, co-operating against common adversaries and the hardship of earning a living from the land. The clay/sand boundary between them invisible but understood.
The gerrymandering of those boundaries in 1974 led to the creation of the Region of Haldimand-Norfolk – an experiment in regionalism designed to govern future growth. Those at the time went ahead with the forced merger, eliminating traditional boundaries and local opposition documented in a government study. In his 1970 report, Earl Berger concluded, “there is strong opposition to regional government in all groups sampled in Haldimand and Norfolk…. There is strong support for increasing the powers of local government.”
And that, “opposition” didn’t fade over time. Six years into regionalism, Township of Norfolk residents voted 3,298 to 469 in support of a referendum question, “requesting the Government of Ontario to renegotiate the Haldimand-Norfolk Regional Act and return all local responsibilities to the area level of government.” Also in 1989, the Town of Haldimand passed a motion to “investigate the possibility of seceding” from the region.
In 1994, the Norfolk Taxpayers Coalition submitted 9,600 signatures of people – including many regional and local politicians – wishing to “secede from the region of Haldimand-Norfolk.” That same year, both the Town of Simcoe and the City of Nanticoke held referenda voting 60 per cent and 75 per cent, respectively, for an alternative to regional government.
As I reported last week, it was the region’s 17.9 per cent tax increase on residents – the largest tax increase of any region in Ontario – that spelled the beginning of the end. Over 10,000 people signed their name to the Residents Against Tax Hikes petition calling for a tax freeze and the elimination of regional government.
It was in this climate in 1998, that I introduced legislation titled An Act to Eliminate Regional Government, End Duplication and Save Taxpayers Money. This bill passed second reading with unanimous support of my caucus colleagues before the legislature closed for the coming election.
After the 1999 provincial vote sent a message to continue the streamlining, I accelerated the fight for restructuring.
….to be continued.