Do I support the members of Kitchener and Waterloo councils engaging in discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of merging the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo?
Why? It makes sense. It’s as simple as that.
But since I understand that one man’s common sense is another man’s nonsense, I’ll explain why talking merger makes sense to me.
Born and raised in Kitchener, I have never understood why we have two cities in the first place. The two cities long ago grew together to form a single urban centre. Properties cross the border. Buildings cross the border. It’s possible to go to bed in one city and have breakfast in another without getting dressed or leaving your house. Anyone from out of town driving down any major street that crosses the border does not have any clue where one city stops and another begins.
I think it’s time to take a serious look at the advantages and disadvantages of coming together to form a single city.
Should we merge? That’s a whole other question and one that I don’t believe can be answered without voting yes in the merger referendum. We simply don’t have enough hard facts to make that judgement.
You may be concerned that voting yes is like trying to walk part way down a slippery slope to decide if you want to go to the bottom. But I’m not. I have enough faith in our politicians and city staff that they can engage in open-minded talks without inevitably leading to any predetermined outcome. But that also means, the citizens of both cities also have to be open minded to considering a new relationship including merger.
I am open to a wide range of possibilities that could result from taking a serious look at merging. I can only see positive outcomes–even if we decide that a merger is not in our best interests. Opponents keep talking about how we don’t need to merge in order to find new and better ways of working together. I suggest that the best way to identify new ways to working together is to put all the cards on the table so we can see in what makes the most sense or provides the easiest wins for both cities. If we don’t take a serious look, we’re only talking about working better together in on a theoretical level. So I believe it’s worth exploring a new relationship even if we decide that the the disadvantages of full merger outweigh the advantages.
You may have guessed that I suspect that the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. But faced with the cold hard facts, I may be proven wrong.
To me though it makes sense to work together as one. I believe we will be stronger together and better prepared for the future. Just look at the long list of organizations that serve both cities. In fact, there is a trend towards serving the region as a whole. If it was so important to represent arbitrary geographic areas we would not see so many many organizations jointly serve both Kitchener and Waterloo. Looking at merger is only reflecting what is already happening across our cities.
I won’t pretend that there is potential for huge savings. There will be very real costs involved and even though efficiencies are sure to be found I expect the overall budget would remain the same. But I don’t see the potential in merger to be about cost savings or financial efficiencies.
I see the potential in merging to be about improving service for the people of Kitchener-Waterloo while making it simpler to live, work and invest here. Do we need two of everything from bylaws to city departments to policies and procedures in dealing each city? I’d suggest that in nearly every case the answer is no. If you move from one city to another you shouldn’t need to learn a whole new set of ropes. If you operate a business in both cities, you shouldn’t need to know two sets of rules and deal with two sets of officials.
But maybe the price tag will be too high. Maybe merging won’t make sense.
Let’s take a serious look and find out what it would mean to be one city. We’re not deciding whether to merge. That decision–should it even be formally proposed–is a decision that we don’t need to make unless a subsequent referendum is held somewhere down the road.
If you are interested in learning more about why we should engage in discussions to look at the advantages and disadvantages of merging, please read a recent column by John English and Tricia Siemens and an editorial that appeared in the Waterloo Region Record.