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Elephant in the room

The seemingly innnocuous mention of firefighters from the various cities joining forces to become a regional fire service has, once again, raised the thorny issue of amalgamation.

The Kitchener Professional Firefighters Association just floated the idea out there — not even a discussion about a regional fire service — merely a suggestion that the time has come when such a discussion might prove to be informative.

Suddenly, it’s 2010 again, when residents of the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo were asked whether they would like their respective councils to discuss the pros and cons of becoming one city. It was repeatedly pointed out that such a discussion would not

necessarily lead to one city, but many — more in Waterloo than in Kitchener — could not abide even the thought of the two-headed monster.

And so, of course, talk of a regional fire service has led to questions about why the entire region isn’t amalgamated. Regional councillor Geoff Lorentz is right when he says the only thing that is lacking in a move toward amalgamation is the political will.

Mayor Carl Zehr says we can’t go on cherry picking services that move from a city responsibility to a regional responsibility, but that’s simply not true. The cities and townships already share a police service, emergency medical service, public transit, waste

management and many roads. Our libraries have borrowing agreements. Many of our cultural organizations receive funding from more than one municipality.

Throw in the fire service, the biggest budget item for each of the cities, and the case could be made that there’s not enough left for city councils to manage. And that might be just what city councils are afraid of. But with cash-strapped governments and public sector jobs under the microscope, it’s a discussion worth having a discussion about.

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