In politics, a few words can mean a lot, mostly to the person who says them.
In reality, however, those words can be virtually irrelevant.
This truth became very clear this week after I interviewed Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson following Question Period Thursday. I quoted him about his intention to intervene; for the first time, he said “It will be up to the province to come up with a solution if we can’t find one locally. And I am prepared to move on that sooner rather than later.”
I missed the “if we can’t find one locally.”
And thanks to Watson’s press secretary’s tape, the few words were found.
These few words would matter to the politicos who dance and play their parts in the theatrical drama on the political stage.
But the reality is few, if any, are holding out hope for a local solution. But as the Good Book says, “three things remain: faith, hope and love.” (Oh dear, perhaps I should check the quote.)
Perhaps Simcoe County Warden Tony Guergis would be; he wants Watson to tell Barrie to work with the county. Guergis envisions a regional government to which Barrie would report on planning issues. He said this in a press briefing at Queen’s Park Thursday afternoon.
But we know Watson’s not holding out much hope on that. In Question Period, he recounted the series of fruitless meetings held in February and March, in which ministry staff met privately with Barrie, Innisfil and Simcoe County – and then will all three.
Then, of course, there were the extensive talks led by provincial development facilitator Alan Wells which failed in February 2008.
And, of course, there’s the series of studies that go back to 2002, including one in which Barrie invited its neighbours to talk about growth, followed by the Intergovernmental Action Plan (IGAP), which recommended focusing growth in the region in “Barrie and area.”
Then there was the county process throughout 2007 and 2008, which ultimately led to plans to scatter growth mostly between Innisfil, Bradford West Gwillimbury, New Tecumseth and Wasaga Beach. The province has raised serious concerns with that plan and is challenging Innisfil’s official plan (which implements the growth for the town) at the Ontario Municipal Board.
So, in reality, there truly is little hope for a local solution.
Watson needs to intervene sooner rather than later.
The reality is there are deadlines; any municipal ward changes must be made by Dec. 31, so that on Jan. 1, which technically is Nomination Day, candidates can register to run in the November 2010 municipal election.
And to be fair, if boundaries change, ward boundaries will change, and the residents should have some say in the shape of those and what their municipal council will look like.
No politician would surrender and give up territory; this will take a provincial ruling.
And as for Innisfil’s Fair Growth campaign, what better way for incumbent councillors to raise their profiles and increase their name recognition, with taxpayers footing the bill?
Watson needs to step in and solve this issue – to not only add some teeth to his government’s Places to Grow policy, but to reduce uncertainty to encourage business and to stop the campaign that Innisfil taxpayers are paying for, which are doing more for the profiles of incumbent councillors than building community.