What happens when things change?

September 13, 2011

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In 1967, Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin freely entered into an agreement to amalgamate the Guelph Public Health Unit with that of the Wellington-Dufferin Health Unit. A newly-constituted Board of Health was established to provide the governance for the delivery of public health programs in the three municipalities.

There are risks with any partnership. What if it doesn’t work out despite best intentions or because circumstances simply change? The decision makers clearly contemplated these questions and provided an “escape” clause which enshrined the right of any of the three municipal partners to withdraw from the agreement with proper notice. Guelph has recently declared its interest in invoking this clause. The Board of Health and Province have expressed their opposition, more or less. It remains to be seen whether the politicians almost 45 years ago were wrong in believing they had protected the rights of future Councils or whether the right to end the agreement has subsequently been revoked by the Province.

This is now in the hands of a judge to determine.

I don’t question that the decision to amalgamate was a good one at the time. The governance structure likely made a lot of sense in 1967. The question the City is asking in 2011 is whether it is the right governance structure today. After 45 years, is there a better way in light of the growth of our respective communities, urbanization, different philosophies towards service delivery, and changing expectations of taxpayers for direct accountability?

I have heard clearly from the people I represent that they do not consider decisions made by the Board of Health and the Counties of Dufferin and Wellington – decisions that will have the effect of increasing the debt profile of the City of Guelph without the approval of Guelph City Council – as accountable.

Had the Province agreed to fund their share of the accommodation costs for public health in Guelph, it’s likely none of this would have been an issue.

Had there been a serious effort on the part of the Board of Health to consult and collaborate with the City of Guelph, perhaps their legitimate accommodation needs could have been met with a financing approach that would not have placed debt on the municipalities.

The right of the Board of Health to encumber the City of Guelph in this manner is also in the hands of a judge to determine.

Not in the hands of the judge to determine is what governance structure can best deliver public health programs in Guelph, Wellington and Dufferin.

One of the partners in this story (Guelph) is not happy – not convinced that the current governance structure is working for its community. That should be a concern not just to Guelph but the Medical Officer of Health, the Board of Health, Dufferin, Wellington and the Province. Why isn’t it?

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About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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6 Comments on “What happens when things change?”

  1. RoseMary Peddie Says:

    It seems to me the reason it isn’t a concern to anyone but Guelph (and Guelph taxpayers) is because the other players feel they are entitled to have Guelph (and Guelph taxpayers) pay for their wants. Where this seeming feeling of entitlement comes from, I don’t know. However, the escape clause was written into the agreement so that any of the three partners could withdraw with proper notice. Wellington, Dufferin, and the Board of Health do not have any right to spend money and expect Guelph (and Guelph taxpayers) to pick up the lions share of the tab. The Province wasn’t in on the original partnership and it should have no business revoking any partners’ right to end the partnership. I rather doubt there would be the same legal battles had one of the other partners decided they wanted out (as if that would ever happen). It is absolutely asinine to expect Guelph to foot a huge part of this cost, including a building in another community, without Guelph having been consulted and included in the planning from the beginning.

  2. Roberto Says:

    The city of Guelph suffers from “special snowflake syndrome.” The only thing that’s asinine is the city’s inability to balance its books. The city was aware of the need for a new building 3 years ago, if they didn’t push ahead with all the other stimulus plans and balanced their budgets properly (I mean the other 2 partners were able to budget accordingly) there wouldn’t be an issue. With members on the board of health, including the mayor, you’d think they’d be bloody well aware of their position.

  3. Rocket Gal Says:

    How will Guelph pay for its own public health service?

  4. kfarbridge Says:

    Funding sources would be the same as today with both a municipal and provincial contribution. We currently contribute based on the population size of our municipality. Guelph has asked the Province to appoint an assessor to assist in better understanding the opportunities and implications of a new governance structure.

  5. kfarbridge Says:

    Roberto, the City of Guelph balances its books each year.

  6. Paul Says:

    Yes, the city is able to balance it’s books via tax increases, service cuts and dipping into reserve funds….good job team!

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