Last week’s editorial in The Leader (January 11, 2023) looked back at municipal amalgamation which took effect in South Dundas, and across Ontario 25 years ago. While handled poorly in the late 1990s, it can be argued that amalgamation was the right concept. Reducing over 800 municipal entities to 444 did not save money, but it improved communities. Since then many rural communities have plateaued, which leads to the question: Would further amalgamation be the answer to improving services and ultimately municipalities?
South Dundas – and the other five municipalities that form SDG Counties – is not exempt from the plateauing effect. Increased cost and further cooperation sees resource sharing between neighbours more commonplace. The formal marriage of willing municipalities can lead to better use of resources and provide the strength needed to attract development.
For South Dundas, North Dundas is a natural partner. One municipality has a burgeoning water crisis on its hands that hampers further development in all sectors – residential, commercial, and industrial. The other has an overbuilt water system thirsty for users. North and South Dundas have informally talked about connecting Winchester to the South Dundas’ water system. There are historic ties between both municipalities, common industries, and a growing Ottawa commuter market, the two Dundas’ could be tied.
South Dundas has another dance partner to its east to consider. South Stormont and South Dundas operated for a while under the Upper Canada Region branding connected to tourism. Both partnered recently to recruit doctors. Historic ties like “Seaway Communities” offer a familiar community culture and shared heritage.
In both cases, an amalgamated municipality with South Dundas as an equal partner would have a larger combined population than that of the City of Brockville. This gives the married municipality more leverage to seek investment, development, and when needed, access to upper levels of government for spending on infrastructure.
A more radical shake-up would result from adopting a regional government model, fully eliminating all six lower-tier municipalities: SDG Counties would be a single-tier government. This model is successful for Prince Edward County, which operates as a city.
Those who question the need for an upper tier government at all could have their cake, and eat it too. If considering north-south or east-west amalgamations, devolving SDG Counties’ duties to now larger communities makes sense. A “Dundas County” made up of north and south could maintain its portion of the county road network well. Many of the services provided to SDG and its lower-tiers are done through a shared services agreement with the City of Cornwall. These new entities could negotiate with the city just as easily. Eliminating the “middle man” would simplify service delivery.
Looking ahead to the next 25 years, it is clear that the need to do things differently is a way to progress. Remaining at a plateau while other municipalities progress means South Dundas will gradually fall behind. Further amalgamation could be considered to avoid that.