Oakville residents take stand against ‘horrible’ prospect of amalgamation

A grassroots movement has emerged in Oakville to fight against possible amalgamation as the Ford government carries out a review of regional governments in the province.

The push is spearheaded by a newly formed group called We Love Oakville, which has distributed lawn signs around the town to generate public awareness and resistance against possible changes to local government.

“This isn’t something that is appropriate for Oakville and it’s not something that residents want here,” said George Niblock, a spokesperson for the group.

We Love Oakville is worried that Oakville, Burlington, Milton, and Halton Hills are all at risk of being amalgamated into a single municipality.

In January, Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives announced a plan to comprehensively review the province’s regional governments in a bid to improve efficiency and service delivery.

The review includes 82 municipalities, including eight upper-tier governments — Halton, York, Durham, Waterloo, Niagara, Peel, Muskoka District, Oxford County, and the County of Simcoe.

It is expected to be complete sometime this summer.

In Ontario, upper-tier municipalities or regions typically oversee services such as policing and garbage pickup, while lower-tier municipalities handle local bylaws. The current system was introduced in the 1970s.

Oakville a ‘special place to live’

While the PCs say amalgamation is not the focus of the review, it will be among the possibilities considered for the municipalities that are included.

That has raised fears in Oakville, where residents worry that amalgamation could lead to higher taxes and poorer service, in addition to damaging the town’s identity and heritage.

“I don’t want to see Oakville become something else,” said Gary Lawson, who’s lived in the town since 1962. “I would hate to see it become Halton, or part of Burlington or Hamilton or something like that.”

Another resident called the possibility of amalgamation “horrible.” She worried that the town’s level of service and facilities could be diminished.

“If it gets amalgamated, then everything is put into one big pool, and Oakville could be left out of a very important matter,” said Liz Monty.

“I just feel that it’s a special place to live,” added Sabaina Malik. “Making it into one big community … it doesn’t sound like something Oakville residents are interested in.”

Advocates fear higher taxes, poorer service

We Love Oakville, which is backed by eight local residents associations and the Downtown Oakville BIA, warns on its website that amalgamation would be “enormously costly and chaotic and dysfunctional.”

The group says amalgamation has historically created higher costs for government, which could lead to higher taxes. They also argue that Oakville’s credit rating could be jeopardized, dissuading businesses from entering the community.

“One of the biggest concerns is that the efficiencies that are promised by amalgamation don’t materialize,” Niblock said.

I think it’s a pretty easy argument to make,” he added.

Oakville Mayor Rob Burton is also pushing against amalgamation, and said the status quo in Oakville and Halton Region has been a “big success.”

He argued that the existing multi-tier system allows communities to offer the services that best serve their specific needs. For example, Oakville offers professional fire fighting and a grid-based transit network, while smaller communities like Halton Hills have volunteer firefighters and no transit needs.

Combining the communities into one municipality could drive up costs, he said, cutting against the promises made by the Tories during the 2018 provincial election.

“They feel like an unadvertised threat to [Oakville’s] future has been brought out of the blue by the government,” Burton said of his residents.

Outcome of review ‘not predetermined,’ local MPP says

Local PC MPP Stephen Crawford said his government is smart to examine the function of government in order to improve efficiency.

He insisted that amalgamation is not the primary focus or goal of the review.

“The outcome of the review is not predetermined, I want to make that very clear,” he told CBC Toronto.

While Crawford acknowledged the emerging resistance to amalgamation, he said the community has “divergent opinions” on the issue.

He also said he believes the review will not lead to the amalgamation of Oakville and Halton Region, but that it is prudent to conduct a thorough examination after many decades without major upheaval.

“We’re looking at all options in all communities,” he said.

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