West Lincoln Mayor Cheryl Ganann appeared at the Provincial Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy on Wednesday, January 10, 2024, to deliver remarks on municipal governance.
The following is a transcript of Mayor Ganann’s statement.
Good afternoon, members of the Ontario Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
My name is Cheryl Ganann and I am Mayor of the Township of West Lincoln. I have with me to assist with answering questions, Director of Finance/Treasurer, Donna DeFilippis, Director of Public Works and Recreation, Mike DiPaola and Director of Planning and Building, Brian Treble.
West Lincoln is the most westerly municipality in Niagara Region and as such shares boundaries with the City of Hamilton, Haldimand County, the Towns of Grimsby, Lincoln and Pelham and the Township of Wainfleet.
I have provided each of you with a copy of a report regarding West Lincoln’s perspective on each of the three governance scenarios that we have been hearing about:
The first being to maintain the “status quo” regarding Niagara Region. We have made comments and have included some suggestions from our perspective regarding proposed changes to that relationship;
The second being the suggestion of “One City of Niagara,” which we do not support at all as we feel that a small, outlying municipality such as ours would most definitely lose not only its identity but its ability to control its own destiny;
And the third scenario being a multi-city model with what is being referred to as “West Niagara”: a combined Town of Lincoln, Town of Grimsby and Township of West Lincoln entity being one of those cities.
The report provides detailed information about West Lincoln, which although being geographically the largest municipality in Niagara Region with a land area of close to 388 km2, is one of the smaller populated Niagara municipalities sitting at 16,370 residents. We have a substantial agricultural sector, which our goal is to protect, dotted by several small hamlets, with the Town of Smithville being the largest urban centre and therefore the area where projected growth is to take place. Smithville itself is expected to be approximately 29,000, with West Lincoln as a whole expected to be over 38,000 by 2051.
Currently, as of January 2024, the status quo scenario regarding Niagara Region most appeals to many of our residents and some of our Councillors. The two-tier structure is appropriate at this time, although it could and should be strengthened by refined municipal service delivery and good governance at both upper- and lower-tier levels. The Township provides very good value for money in terms of services, programs and assets. Our residents expect and receive a local, accessible front-line government.
Circa 2015, with Regional support a land swap brought an additional 100 hectares into the urban boundary of Smithville, thus providing an additional supply of land for building homes to take us out to approximately 2025. West Lincoln and the Region began in 2018/2019 to work together on what has now materialized to be an Urban Boundary Expansion of the Town of Smithville, thus allowing for growth that will achieve Regional and Provincial growth targets, avoid Greenbelt lands and also protect specialty crop areas.
Although the growth for Smithville being proposed is small by some standards, this potential for more than 8,000 new homes is significant on a local scale.
Although the current position of West Lincoln is to support the existing governance model, that the Region of Niagara remain in place, but continue to improve upon a cost-effective delivery of services to residents, we realize that this may not the best approach for our residents as we move toward the future. As we sit on the cusp of our Town of Smithville with approximately 7,000 residents expected to quadruple in size and an overall growth projection for West Lincoln expected to almost triple by 2051 and, additionally, as we see the obvious need for more housing not only in West Lincoln but throughout the Province, we know that, as a municipal Council, we must be open to change in governance structure.
If it is the will of this standing committee to suggest that changes in Niagara should be made and if the Provincial government in turn decides to do so, then we feel strongly that we would best serve our residents by being aligned with our neighbours, the Town of Grimsby and the Town of Lincoln, that is to say, the creation of a multi-city model with West Niagara becoming one of those cities.
Together, our three municipalities have already worked towards, advocated for and incorporated changes to how we deliver services. As I am sure that Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton has already pointed out to you this morning and will no doubt be reiterated later this afternoon by Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan, together we have already achieved several successful shared endeavors.
Our report contains several examples but to highlight a few:
Our unified efforts have resulted in the building of a new hospital currently under construction in Grimsby, with the Region and each of our three catchment municipalities committed to our own local funding share.
The three municipalities share a single hospice: McNally House. Each municipality has made a financial commitment to the current expansion campaign so as to increase the number of hospice beds and palliative services available to our residents.
A new mega high school recently opened in the Fall of 2023 to service the three municipalities. It has been named West Niagara Secondary School. Residents of our three municipalities have each contributed financially to the live theatre/auditorium which will be available for use by the public.
Each of our lower-tier municipalities is closest to the people we represent in the West Niagara area and each is the first point of contact for our residents.
We don’t have all of the “how to proceed” answers, but based on past experience, we believe that there are logical connections between the three of us and will therefore continue to explore options for improved service delivery and governance, including more efficient decision-making.
West Lincoln finds itself in a rather unique position. Retaining the “status quo” with the Niagara Region is thought to be our best option based on our current situation.
However, our Council recognizes that being poised for this explosive growth, coupled with the housing potential within our existing and approved urban boundary expansion areas, requires that we be open-minded about our future and what could potentially be best for our current and future residents.
I re-state that if through the thorough work of this Standing Committee, it is determined that a change in governance structure in Niagara Region should be made, the “West Niagara” scenario, one municipality of potentially 100,000 residents, is the best choice for West Lincoln’s future.
With both Grimsby and Lincoln moving steadily closer to being “built-out” due to geographic constraints, West Lincoln would round out this future new municipality’s availability to continue building a wide variety of homes. The downside to available land however, is the inability for a small municipality to be able to fund the necessary water and wastewater infrastructure to allow for currently approved and future housing starts to take place.
We recognize and support that this Provincial government has identified housing as a priority and thus desires to see more homes build as soon as possible. This is an undeniably important issue that will require input and financial support from all levels of government to make it happen as intended.
In closing, the Township of West Lincoln is most appreciative of this opportunity to provide input regarding any potential changes to the governance structure of Niagara Region to this Standing Committee.
I thank you for your time and attention and we are willing to take any questions that members of Committee may have at the appropriate time.