The Rise of Waterloo Region


Dan calls my attention to a few local developments, one of which I should have noticed long before now.

It used to be, Waterloo Region was served by three-and-a-half ridings. There was Cambridge, covering Cambridge and North Dumfries, Kitchener Centre, covering the bulk of Kitchener and Kitchener-Waterloo, covering the north end of Kitchener and the City of Waterloo.

Then there was Waterloo-Wellington, a ludicrously shaped riding that took in the southwest corner of Kitchener, the three townships of Waterloo region stretching to the west and the north, and then a portion of north Wellington county -- a rural area that I'm pretty sure that most people in Kitchener don't know exists (no offence to the fine people of northern Wellington County). It wasn't gerrymandered riding by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a case of Elections Canada throwing up their hands and saying, "the rest of southwestern Ontario breaks apart into nicely-defined ridings; let's shove all the other bits that don't fit and create Waterloo-Wellington"

Redistribution has since recognized Waterloo Region's growth. There's been some slight shifting of the boundaries of Kitchener Centre, Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, but Waterloo-Wellington has been reshaped into Kitchener-Conestoga -- basically cutting off the Wellington County portion of the old riding at the northern boundary of Waterloo region.

With this change, Waterloo Region has the same level of representation in parliament as Prince Edward Island. And with that fact, I feel that a line has been crossed. Our population is almost four times that of PEI; our budget is higher than at least a couple of provinces, and we have the same level of representation as London, Ontario. You couldn't have said that ten years ago. Waterloo Region has been growing quite well this past decade, and all signs suggest (fingers crossed) that this will continue for some time to come.

Despite a few hiccups, our municipal government is sound and there is a definite sense of optimism here. After being here for thirteen years, I sense the development of a Southwestern (Midwestern?) Ontario character that plays off the hefty presence of the GTA, but which remains separate from it. I feel myself as a southwestern Ontarian as well as a born-and-bred Torontonian. I feel the need for my portion of my province to stand up and be counted.

As for northern Wellington County? It's now a part of the riding of Wellington-Halton Hills. At first I thought that these folks couldn't cut a break -- that county's ridings always seem to be shared out with other counties (see the neighbouring Perth-Wellington), but in this case it looks like Halton Hills is the add on.

Bragging Rights

Dan also points me to a report in the K-W Record (sadly unlinkable due to cheapskate policies) that states that Waterloo Region is the only city of its size which does not have a geographical area (a.k.a. neighbourhood) of significant poverty. Even Pioneer Park, which once believed that it was receiving more than its fair share of subsidized housing, is seeing its median income go through the roof.

Despite this, Kitchener is still building affordable housing units, but we seem to have had good luck in our design and in our policies. Affordable units are being spread around amongst for market housing, and enlightened planning policies are locating denser nodes of these units close to important amenities, such as new transit terminals. All reasons for optimism.

Optimism in Toronto

By comparison, Toronto is struggling, but Andrew Spicer points me to some news items which give good reasons to believe that things are looking up. Despite entering the year facing a possible $344 million shortfall, Toronto now looks to be within striking distance of balancing its budget. Better yet, they may be able to do so without cashing in on their precious equity.

I think the bulk of the credit for this goes to new mayor David Miller, who has managed council effectively in the five months he has been in office. By now, Mel Lastman would have blown his top, adding to the sense of crisis around him, and possibly poisoning relations (again) between council and the provincial government.

Kudos also go to Dalton McGuinty who, after a shaky start, has come through to help Toronto meet this year's obligations and has maintained friendly relations with mayor Miller. There is still plenty of work ahead for both men, and McGuinty still has a bevy of promises to follow up on (all the while facing a massive shortfall of his own), but there is still a sense that there are competent managers in control of the problems facing Queen's Park and City Hall. And for that we can at least breathe a small sigh of relief.

Contrast that with Paul Martin -- the man with the most expectations who appears to have failed the most spectacularly.

The New Rhinos

Those looking for the successor to the legendary Rhinocerous Party of Canada might want to have a look at the Absolutely Absurd Party of Canada. Among their party policies is a promise to eliminate stress.

Think they can get enough support to be recognized by Elections Canada? I, for one, hope so.

Happy Easter, everyone! I hope you had a beautiful weekend. On days such as these, it's hard not to see the connection between spring and resurrection.

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