By Jeff Halcrow, Spoke News
With municipal elections next month, one Cambridge city councillor has proposed a radical change to the region, suggesting Cambridge could separate from Kitchener and Waterloo.
Ward 8 Coun. Nicholas Ermeta has been sharing the idea of an independent Cambridge with other local politicians and residents of the city. If some would consider separation too extreme, Ermeta has also suggested beginning a regional services board.
For Ermeta, the problem doesn’t stem from an individual issue; instead his goal is to bolster Cambridge’s voice in regional politics.
“It’s a core principle,” said Ermeta, “I believe the best decisions are made when they’re closest to the people.”
Ermeta did provide some examples, such as Cambridge’s lack of an Ion light rail station despite paying into the regional system, as well as the region pushing for a safe injection site downtown when Cambridge city councillors have already expressed their disapproval.
In his words, Ermeta believes that “decisions affecting the individual community should be made in that community. Kitchener shouldn’t be telling Cambridge what to do and Cambridge shouldn’t be telling Kitchener-Waterloo what to do.”
The sentiment seems to be one of frustration, where citizens of Cambridge can feel like second-class citizens in their own region.
Of the two options Ermeta presented, he said the service board is the “most realistic approach.”
If Cambridge or any other cities decided to create or join a regional services board, they would be able to opt in and out of local or provincial services, such as garbage collection and public transit. If the city or board could find a better deal on a public service, they would be free to choose their own.
While the discussion of separation is relatively new at Cambridge city hall, Ermeta says “there is support at Cambridge council for a services board.”
The mayor of Cambridge, Doug Craig, says “there’s always been talk [of separation] over the years … but the realistic problem is that it’s too financially perilous to go in that direction.” Craig has spoken with Ermeta about the services board, highlighting that the board would be less expensive, allowing the Tri-Cities to share services like sewers, water, police and transit; while other services and heritage and art projects could be left to a sole city’s discretion.
The difficulties in the process will lie with the province, which would have to approve a separation of Cambridge from the region. If Cambridge does want to seriously consider succession or a regional services board, it will have to move quickly.
With municipal elections every four years, current supporters of either option will need to secure election or re-election if they want to discuss the issue and move forward.
Another potential speed bump for the project would be the provincial government’s budget slashing, where Premier Doug Ford could come after Waterloo Region’s city councils in the wake of his action on Toronto’s council. There have also been murmurs of forming the region into one city, similar to the consolidation of smaller towns into cities when Mike Harris was premier of Ontario.
Both proposals for separation or a regional service board are bottom-up approaches, in contrast to the current situation where Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge toil to find universal solutions to individual problems.
If the people of Cambridge truly feel they are at a disadvantage in advocating for change in their city, and they can be financially independent, then, in Ermeta’s words, they should be free to choose their own destiny.