On the north side of the 401 there are whispers of amalgamation.
On the south side they are openly talking about secession.
In a recent Facebook post, Cambridge City Councillor Nicholas Ermeta stated he was tired of the Regional Government arrangement and is looking to break away from the current structure.
"I'm not a fan of regional government, I say either have Cambridge be a standalone City or within a services board model where the City has full autonomy within its borders," wrote Ermeta.
A standalone city would see the city responsible for virtually all services which is currently provided by the Region.
According to Ermeta, a service board model, where each city is able to pick and choose its services, is more realistic option.
"The City of Cambridge or the other cities in the region could opt in and out of whatever services they want, so in a nutshell the individual cities would determine the level of service they want, and the board would go out and get the best possible price," said Ermeta.
Ermeta adds he is not alone in looking to break up the Regional structure, 'Many in the 905 belt (Greater Toronto Area) agree with me and we're coming up with a plan to present to the provincial government that if implemented would create a stronger Cambridge, Burlington, Markham, Mississauga, Oakville while having cross border agreements where it makes sense without compromising the autonomy of the community.' says Ermeta.
He is hopeful the new Ontario PC Government will be an ally after their recent incursion into municipal structure, 'the last government listened but didn't really do anything on that particular topic, but the new government says they want a review of regional government and I'm going to be getting out ahead of the curve," said Ermeta.
The Cambridge mayoral candidates also appear to be considering the idea.
(You can find a response from Doug Craig, Kathryn McGarry, and Ben Tucci at the bottom of this article.)
As for the reasons why Ermeta wants a shake-up of the municipal structure, he says that too much of the decision making power is made by people outside of Cambridge,
"We can advocate and we can lobby, but at the end of the day the region is the one is making the decision and I want to change that."
He adds, 'it's about bringing the government closer to the people, I don't think people in Cambridge should have to go up to Kitchener to lobby for better transit or better garbage collection, we should be able to have those discussion right at city hall.'
If this secession is to succeed it would need support from the rest of the region or an intervention from the provincial government.
Mayoral Candidate's response:
First, let me say that this is a complex issue that cannot be stated in such a limited fashion within a couple of paragraphs.
However, going to a single, standalone city would be very popular, but prohibitively expensive. The best option that achieves the economies of scale that taxpayers are wanting with much more independence that people feel they have lost, would be a "Service Board" model.
With this you would eliminate Regional government completely and establish different authorities run by the lower tier cities over such things as water and sewer, police, and transit. These are truly small "r" region wide services that can be cooperatively operated.
These would serve the cities and be under their control. All other items from public health to heritage would return to the cities.
I was appointed by the City of Cambridge to sit on the 2nd Community Leaders' Task Force on Municipal Restructuring. After studying amalgamations around North America, we were unable to find any that had saved money post amalgamation.
We examined options such as a standalone city versus a "Service Board" model, and a Service Board model was the preferred option IF Cambridge voters wanted to leave the Region of Waterloo. The report was shelved a few years ago.
On a question like this, the people of our community should have a direct say, if Cambridge did not remain part of the Region. My concern is that the Cambridge taxpayers would be responsible for the cost of all of our services. The Service Board Model would have to be examined carefully to make sure this would not increase costs for the average taxpayer.
I want to lead a city that is a leader and a strong contributor to the existing two-tier system of Regional Government but with a renewed sense of partnership. Enhancing the profile and stature that the city deserves in that partnership. If we do this successfully, there should never again be a time where the Region arbitrarily imposes on Cambridge without due process, consultation, and discussion.
There is still a movement to force amalgamation within Waterloo Region. This will not happen under my watch. The only other governance model I would consider is a 'go it alone model'. This would require intensive review to ensure affordability without detrimental impact on services.