Saturday, February 13, 2010

Amalgamation May Happen If We Don't Speak Up

A lot of time and effort was expended two years ago to fend off a business lobby intent on amalgamation. Now the same group is back with what you might call a "foot in the door" tactic - get agreement on having a referendum about whether to hold talks on the issue. Who could disagree with something so benign? But don't be fooled. When the question was "Do you want to amalgamate," the vast majority of local residents said "no". This latest tactic is a more subtle attempt to trick us into amalgamation.

Atthough we won this battle just two years ago, we can't rest. If we don't speak up, the amalgamation lobby will win this time. It's an election year and the amalgamation lobby is putting a great deal of pressure on local politicians - writing, phoning; there was even a recent letter to the editor of The Record urging voters to vote out every Waterloo City Councillor opposed to amalgamation.

Waterloo city councillors voted against the referendum, but Mayor Halloran has put the question back on the agenda for the February 22 council meeting.

If you care about the identities of Kitchener and Waterloo, please write your local council and tell them. Here is what I sent today:

Subject: No Amalgamation Referendum

To Mayor Halloran and Waterloo City Councillors,

I oppose a referendum on whether Kitchener and Waterloo should discuss merger talks.

We elected you as our representatives, and I look to you to decide how to proceed. This entire issue of a referendum on whether to discuss amalgamation is a political ploy to move amalgamation forward. You do not need our endorsement to have discussions.

However, if you have discussions, then I think you should follow the suggestion (as I understand it) of Councillor d’Ailly and discuss the issues rather than jumping to one solution. Figure out where our system of city and regional government can be improved, and look to ways to improve it.

We defeated amalgamation as recently as two years ago. Polls at that time showed that residents were strongly against amalgamation. The recent poll showing support for investigating amalgamation is a classic way to slant a poll (I know; I was previously a market research analyst). Phrasing the question “Would you support members of council engaging in a dialogue about...” is going to garner positive responses, no matter what the question. The more important poll was held in 2008, when 68% of local residents said “no” to amalgamation.

The same people who are putting pressure on you today to go down the amalgamation road were doing the same thing two years ago, and they lost. I do not know why they are so gung-ho on amalgamation, but I suspect that there are vested interests here. Just because they keep lobbying for amalgamation doesn’t mean we have to waste time and money every couple of years having this big debate.

I urge you to drop the idea of a referendum in next autumn’s election.

Amalgamation is not in the best interests of the City of Waterloo.

Ruth Haworth

Update: Here's Jan d'Ailly's latest blog post on the topic.



Yappa said...

I received the following response from Councillor McLean:
Good morning Ruth,
Thank you for your thoughts.

Interesting to note that I have received many comments (pressure to use your term) from folks on both sides.

Letting each member of the community have a say about whether to start this discussion seems both fair and logical.

I appreciate the response, but I am frustrated that it dismisses just about everything I said.

Anonymous said...

Ian McLean is a very poor representative for Ward 7 (which includes the uptown). As far as I can tell, he is lazy, not very bright, and not very interested. He only got elected because of his father, who was a prominent local Conservative.

We need good representation for our uptown core. In this election year, can't someone else step forward and run against him?

James Bow said...

It is, as has been noted elsewhere, the Quebec separatism approach. Rather than asking a referendum question on independence, they ask a question about whether they should open negotiations with the federal government about altering the relationship the province has with confederation, and then they send signals that they'll translate a mandate to "talk" as a mandate to _do_.

Indeed, am I correct in recalling that one of the proponents for the amalgamation discussion made that interpretation: that a mandate to discuss was a mandate to do?

Feel free to use this analogy often. It's one thing to want to talk about how the regional arrangement can be improved, but the voters do not give their permission for sweeping changes to be made without their approval.

Michael D said...

James, the issue you reference is exactly why Waterloo City Council voted down the initial motion. The motion being brought forward by Mayor Halloran addresses interpretation and consultation issues reasonably well, I think.

About the business group... of course they have vested interests! That was exactly their point - that Kitchener-Waterloo being one entity would make it easier to attract talent and to do business.

Yappa said...

Hi Michael -

Nice to hear from you again. :-)

By vested interests, I mean owning land that will increase greatly in value, or something like that. I really don't know why they're raising the issue this time, but previous amalgamation efforts had to do with creating more subdivisions. Had the 2008 deal gone through, we'd have urban sprawl stretching to Heidelberg, St Agatha and beyond.

As to making it easier to retain students, attract high tech talent, and attain funding for business - I'm all for that. In fact that's part of my current brief for the Uptown Vision Committee. But, as Councillor d'Ailly says, debating amalgamation is not the way to achieve that goal. We need to consider the issues and not jump prematurely to one possible solution.

Furthermore, it is not at all clear to me how amalgamation helps with that goal. Waterloo has a stunning international reputation in the high tech world, and Kitchener has a reputation as a failing manufacturing community. How does it help Waterloo to dilute its brand in that respect?

Yappa said...

Michael... One more thing -

The new ballot question does not address what James and I are concerned about at all. The new question is:

“Do you support the members of Kitchener and Waterloo Councils engaging in discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of merging the Cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. Yes or No.”


As we said, what they're doing is this: Knowing that they'd be defeated on the question of whether we should amalgamate, they're asking whether they should open negotiations on amalgamation.

Many people will say: what's the harm in opening negotiations? But as d'Ailly points out, it jumps to one solution rather than looking at the issue more objectively. Plus, it's a trick to get their foot in the door. Plus, it diverts our attention from more serious matters. We have defeated amalgamation initiatives multiple times over the last couple of decades. Trying to slip it through the back door is wrong.

Michael D said...

Hi Ruth,

Glad to discuss, as usual.

I really doubt this group has any vested interests other than what they've claimed. Certainly no extra subdivisions or more development would be made possible by K-W amalgamation. Waterloo's reputation is good, but it being perceived as small makes it less competitive with the Torontos and Montreals and New Yorks out there. High-tech is not attracted to small-town feel. In any case, the reality is of a larger city than the "Waterloo" branding would make it seem.

I'm not strongly in any camp, but I can see that this can be an important issue for groups like Communitech. I have my own reasons for and against, but this isn't the time or place. =)

What I was referring to was the second point of the motion, which clarifies what the mandate of a YES or a NO vote would be. On balance, I probably support amalgamation, but I would be hesitant to vote "YES" to a direct question -- because I'd like to see some actual specifics for why it would or wouldn't make sense, and how traumatic amalgamation would be. Which is why I think it reasonable to ask whether citizens support the councils expending taxpayer resources on researching the amalgamation question. I certainly don't see how this is any kind of back door. As long as the mandate of a YES vote does not actually include amalgamation -- and I don't think it would, with the new motion -- this is straightforward.

Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

You may be right - there may be no vested interests this time. I'm still feeling burned from the last time we fended off this same group, in 2008. That amalgamation attempt was of the whole region and would have resulted in a whole lot more subdivisions. At the time I was warned that they weren't about to take no for an answer and would be back with a Plan B.

I fail to see how moving from a twin city to a merged city would impress any investors. They could easily advertise that Waterloo is a twin city and in a metropolitan area of over 500,000. That way Waterloo doesn't have to throw away control of our city.

While I disagree with amalgamation, I think we should be talking about how to retain students, how to attract the thousands of vacancies in the high tech sector, and so on.

Michael D said...

Those are definitely important aims. Though I think the Waterloo student retention is pretty impressive, based on my own (admittedly limited) experience.

There's no reason companies can't talk about being in "Kitchener-Waterloo", with all its implications. But there might not be all that much opportunity for changing people's perceptions. If prospective workers already know that Widget Software is in Waterloo, they may just push it to the end of the list before Widget gets the chance to sell them on the area.

Now that I think about it, there is one other factor, which is that the division is somewhat self-reinforcing. Say someone does take a job in Waterloo. There's a good chance they will seek out a home in Waterloo and not venture out of Waterloo for a while to explore the city that really is directly adjacent - to a large degree due not to any real division but to that separation in name. And vice versa, probably. The fact that the two are separate cities helps make them seem perceptually further away. I think this is a bad thing, but I'm not sure I can explain why at this point.