In the Province of Ontario, the concept of amalgamating municipalities in similar geographic locations has been the subject of debate over many decades. Large populated regions such as Wentworth County, and Metropolitan Toronto have become the single tier municipalities of Hamilton and Toronto respectively (Miljan & Spicer, 2015a). Other less populated areas such as the Municipality of Chatham-Kent have also decided to unite under a single-tier municipal structure (Kushner, & Siegel, 2006).
A key piece of the Common Sense Revolution initiated by then Premier Mike Harris in the 1990’s was the amalgamation of municipalities, touting financial savings and operational benefits of larger single governments. The aforementioned savings and benefits have since been criticized for their minimal impact, and are often critqued on purpoted negative financial and social implications following amalgamation (Miljan & Spicer, 2015a). In January 2019, Premier Doug Ford indicated that his government to look at amalgamation of certain Ontario municipalities (Kelly, 2019). In addition to this, there have been recent requests from municipalities themselves (Mississauga), for changes in municipal structure for their benefit (Ngabo, 2019). With this renewed interest in altering municipal governance in Ontario, an examination of its spatical implications is worthwhile.
The debate surrounding the effectiveness of amalgamation has become more prominent within the last decade. Numerous published studies have evaluated the effectiveness of previous amalgamations, each identifying differing criteria for evaluations, not unique to the experience in Southern Ontario. Many focus on specific amalgamations, such as Kiel’s 2000 comparative study of Los Angeles and Toronto, and Schwartz’s 2009 study examining Toronto. Additionally, Miljan & Spicer’s (2015) Municipal Amalgamation in Ontario, focuses on the amalgamation of Ontario’s municipalities and regions in a broader sense.
These studies are valuable resources in understanding the existing thought process of amalgamation, revealing that the process of amalgamation and its analysis focus largely on the economic and social impact of tax base changes and whether efficiencies were realized. (Schwartz, 2009). In the case of the Kiel’s 2000 study of Los Angeles and Toronto, emphasis of the benefits of amalgamation focuses on governance restructuring. While an important consideration to amalgamation, there exist a number of other factors for evaluation when considering potential amalgamation of municipalities.
Existing literature examining amalgamation reveals a lack of a spatial component in both the process of examining potential amalgamation candidates and subsequent analysis the its impact. This lack can be largely attributed to the political dialogue of the benefits of amalgamation, as the justification for such restructuring has been based on lowering costs achieved from a reduced governing body (Sancton, 1996). In addition to this being a simultaneously vague and narrow focus, reducing the number of governing officials does not always lessen the overall size and budget of a government. A new focus can include identifying overlapping delivery areas with respect to fire stations or community service locations that are administered by individual cities that could be eliminated in an amalgamation setting, theoretically reducing costs under a single-tier structure. Waterloo Region's Tri-City area proves to be a useful case study from the perspective of the close proximity of the cities and their respective population bases as well as the previous amalgamation of three towns to form the present city of Cambridge. Additionally, there is support for amalgamation of the Tri-Cities from politicians, the business community and amongst local residents (Brodie & Lake, 2019).
Examining economic, governance, and service changes, and attempting to find new efficiencies is important in the amalgamation process, but through the use of spatial tools such as a GIS-based model, new opportunities to address the viability of municipal amalgamations could be developed, creating a more comprehensive evaluation. The use of these tools provides a unique ability to showcase new perspectives, or highlight previously unconsidered variables that may not be clear when examining amalgamation from a purely non-spatial statistical standpoint.
Purpose of Research
The purpose of this research study is to determine the aptness of using a GIS-based model to investigate the effects of municipal amalgamation on the delivery of community and emergency services, using the Region of Waterloo, Ontario as a case study.