Some history on how we got our two counties back

By MPP Toby Barrett
Last week I reported on some of the historical background and manoeuvring that eventually led to our local fight to restore Haldimand and Norfolk Counties – pulling us out of the arranged regional government marriage.

Following local resolutions and petitions – and the Haldimand-Norfolk Regional Government’s decision to impose a 17.9 per cent tax increase – the fight to give residents their Counties back went to Queens Park. After the 1999 election and the introduction of my two private members bills, both titled, Eliminate Regional Government, End Duplication and Save Taxpayers Money, efforts were accelerated.

Then Municipal Affairs Ministers Al Leach and Steve Gilchrist looked to create larger amalgamated municipalities – as eventually was done in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Sudbury. I took every opportunity to convince them, and Premier Harris, to do the reverse in our area. Local patience, persistence and petitions all paid off with the process that was kick-started by the provincial appointment of Special Advisor Milt Farrow to review the region.

His review was based on the following principles: 1. fewer municipal politicians while maintaining accessible, effective, accountable representation; 2. lower taxes by reducing overall municipal spending, delivering high quality services at the lowest possible cost, preserving voluntarism, and promoting job creation, investment and economic growth; 3. better, more efficient service delivery while maintaining taxpayer accessibility; 4. less bureaucracy by simplifying and streamlining government, reducing duplication and overlap, and reducing barriers and red tape for business; 5. clear lines of responsibility and better accountability at the local level by reducing duplication and overlap.

In November, Mr. Farrow recommended that the two-tier regional system of government be replaced and divided into two “towns”. He confirmed that the reasons for creating the region no longer existed – our area was not experiencing growth pressures or urban sprawl. The announcement was followed soon after by Harris government legislation, Bill 25 – the Fewer Municipal Politicians Act, that saw 63 politicians whittled down to 16.

Once the legislation was passed, the two-county torch was handed to an eight-member transition board to accomplish the smooth transition from the old regional system to the new counties. A year of meetings, deliberations and submissions ensued to divide up assets, determine service arrangements and deal with funding considerations.

The Haldimand-Norfolk region, along with its six lower-tier municipalities disappeared on Dec. 31, 2000. The new “Town” of Haldimand was formed through the town of Haldimand, the town of Dunnville and the eastern half of the City of Nanticoke. On the other side of the sand/clay boundary, the Townships of Delhi and Norfolk, Town of Simcoe, and the western portion of the City of Nanticoke were amalgamated to form the “Town of Norfolk.”

The newly formed municipalities soon moved to use new municipal rights in Bill 119, ‘the red tape bill’, to rename themselves under their historic “County” monikers.

Then, as now, tradition, history and values are important and deserve protection – and these are the same concepts, 12 years post-restructuring, that Norfolk’s heritage committee is proposing to resurrect and maintain through consideration of restoring former township names over the current ward numbers.

The success of our area in re-establishing our two counties speaks to the need for local government that reflects local characteristics, customs and decision making.