Twenty years ago this month, Victoria County ceased to exist. In its place the City of Kawartha Lakes was born, as vast and rural as the county ever was, dotted with a postcard town and attractive villages.
As our municipal affairs writer, Kirk Winter, soon found when he put together this month’s feature story, the imposed single-tier amalgamation of Victoria County was a watershed moment in local municipal affairs.
It generated a firestorm of passions about local representation that hasn’t cooled completely two decades later.
The Progressive Conservative Party under Mike Harris was well known for its lack of forethought on files such as education and health care. However, this two-term government also showed a shocking lack of care for municipal reform, too.
Harris embarked on a massive exercise of downloading provincial responsibilities onto the backs of unprepared municipalities.
As Dr. Lydia Milijan of University of Windsor writes, “Research indicates (that amalgamation results in) significant increases in property taxes, compensation for municipal employees and long-term debt for amalgamated communities.”
However, 20 years later it’s time to settle in and support one another within our imperfect system. And if we’re being honest, life before amalgamation wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows either. There were far less services. There were hardly any streetlights in rural areas. And yes, there were still potholes.
True, the promised cost savings never materialized, just as the “no amalgamation” side predicted. However, even on quiet rural roads your garbage is getting picked up. There are many more miles of paved roads. There are new fire halls and better equipment for the firefighters.
In so many ways we are stronger together if we can leave the rancour of past debates behind. What we have in this city – this “community of communities,” to use former Prime Minister Joe Clark’s phrase — is worth working together on for the next 20 years and beyond.