Where do you reside?

Where do you reside?

Chances are if you asked people where they live they might not know the right answer. Is there a right answer?

This week we start a series of articles on amalgamation. In its wake, residents have the restructured Wellington County, which took 21 municipal entities and created six new townships and left Puslinch much as it was for a total of seven local governments.

Since there was no guidebook to a successful amalgamation, it will be curious to see the differences, if any, as to governance and or special approches to service delivery.

Back to the initial question of where people live and where they actually reside, there are many still who claim to be from Rockwood, Fergus, Elora, Harriston, Eden Mills, Clifford, Palmerston, Harriston, Mount Forest, Arthur, Drayton, Moorefield, Hillsburgh and so on. Those towns and villages ceased to exist once amalgamation happened. It is quite confusing for those of us in the business of knowing what’s what, let alone residents and newcomers who still see public facilities named after the old town names. Add to that the centuries old postal calls of service and it can be very confusing.

As our reporter pointed out in his article to initiate the series, Cambridge as an example was decades overcoming the blend of Galt, Preston and Hespeler. It’s a tough challenge to overcome generations of history and we see municipalities facing the same trouble here.

An interesting facet of these amalgamations has been the reluctance to throw away old brands – Fergus and Elora being prime examples. Tourism has been a focal point of Centre Wellington’s economic development efforts and they have kept Fergus and Elora quite alive – even though they theoretically do not exist.

In fact the tower behind our office, completed last year had Fergus painted on it as clear as day – some 12 years after Centre Wellington was hatched. It always struck us as curious for a township to keep up a legend, when the township should really be enforcing its identity. Centre Wellington is not alone in this challenge as other townships with rural centres face similar identity crises.

If this first article in this series is any indication there should be more candid commentary from former politicians that drove amalgamation home. We were surprised to see some admission that maybe the process had gotten away from the political class.

In the interest of clarity, yours truly was very active in amalgamation talks at the time, serving on Eramosa township council as its last Reeve and as the first mayor of the new Guelph Eramosa township. (At the time I voted against the amalgamation concept which was eventually passed, preferring instead a county-wide government drawing on strong local community councils).

With that background we wonder if amalgamation is yet complete.

The concept of an elected-at-large warden was first and foremost in the minds of amalgamation architects as a way to make county government more relevant and accountable. The implementation of two-year warden terms by county council, rather than annual elections, has made the office more distant from the people than ever before.

While amalgamation was about forcing better cooperation between local townships in the field of planning, parks and recreation, infrastructure and service delivery, there might be new issues like shared water departments that make sense to explore.

As we go on with the series, we hope to see some reaction from residents and feedback on successes, or outright failures, and feelings people have about their new municipality.