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50 years after Halton Hills Amalgamation: Are we Better or Worse with Regional Government?



“Acton was dragged kicking and screaming into the marital bed [of Regional Government]”


The above quote is attributed to Esther Taylor, the first woman to be elected from Acton to serve on Halton Hills Council. “Kicking and screaming” might be hyperbole on Taylor's part, but there certainly was opposition across the province when the Bill Davis government announced plans to implement regional government in Ontario back in 1973.


Many Acton residents believed that this would mean increased taxes, less services and under-representation at Regional Council. Moreover, there was a sense that the historical and cultural significance of Acton would be smothered under the new municipal and regional entities.


Some concerned citizens started an ad hoc group called “Actonians for Acton” and attempted to lobby support against the amalgamation process. They were even able to get a meeting with a functionary at Queen's Park but nothing came of their efforts. Acton lawyer Ron Henry remembers those times. “There was a great fear that the town would lose autonomy and we'd be sucked into this vortex of a mega-stew...and everything would be lost, our heritage would go.”


But as of Jan. 1, 1974, the separate entities of the Township of Esquesing, Acton and Georgetown were rolled into the Town of Halton Hills. “There were some people who were up in arms,” recalls 93-year-old Bill Nelles. “The biggest thing we were worried about was that we don't end up with the name of Georgetown as well. Because they tried to get rid of Acton off the map all together. They did take Acton off the road map at one time but it created such a fuss that they put it back.”


Kathleen Dills was attending university at the time of amalgamation but she recalls some of the spirited debate around the issue. “I know people were very unhappy as with all the amalgamation across Ontario. My theory is that since early times Acton and Georgetown were arch rivals in baseball and hockey. To think we would get along suddenly under "Halton Hills" (an appropriate name for a cemetery) was a huge stretch,” she said.


“We continue to have different area codes. We will be divided federally and provincially. To this day people speak badly of the other town. It is almost like no one has taken the amalgamation seriously. Hence the "Town" continuously names projects things like "Vision Georgetown". We continue to have Georgetown Hospital. Growing up we never would go to Georgetown for anything. Always Guelph. I do remember that it was long distance to call the municipal office,” added Dills.


But the question of whether Acton is better off as part of Halton Hills remains. According to Acton lawyer Ron Henry: “There has to be some savings in amalgamation. But when you amalgamate you proliferate the bureaucrats that are running things. Look at the bureaucracy they've created, public servants piling on top of public servants. They had to build a big building at Bronte Road and the QEW to house all these characters.


“Living in Acton was life in the raw back in those days. Today, Halton Hills has a fleet of self-propelled street sweepers. Back in the day we had street sweepers, but it was a person pushing a broom. In terms of snow-clearing equipment we had one dump truck with a plow on the the front, one tractor with front end loader and a backhoe. The Region has given the people of Acton creature comforts that we probably wouldn't haven't had, at least not to the same extent.”


Former Mayor Rick Bonnette recalls that era when his father was manager of the Acton Sabres. “There were some rough patches at the beginning. I remember that our ice time had to match Georgetown. Ours was $15 an hour and Georgetown was $20 an hour. So council raised Acton's fee to $20 which had a huge impact to the Sabres, minor hockey and figure skating.



“Needless to say that started quite a rift at the beginning plus our works department was moved out of Acton to its present site. So there were irritants like this which led to an already longstanding rivalry. There was a lot of parochialism in the early years with Georgetown carrying the hammer. However over time that changed. For example Acton got a new Fire Hall, ambulance and a new arena all ahead of Georgetown before they got theirs. In the long term the amalgamation made us stronger and Acton never lost its identity which was a huge concern.”

 

Halton Regional Councillor Clark Somerville argues that the amalgamation of Ontario municipalities has been an winning formula.  “The Town of Acton wouldn't be able to afford things like the recent  sewage treatment plant upgrade over the last two years, that was $36 million. Waste management is another thing that the town used to do. Where would that waste go? We'd have to have a dump in this area. A lot of things that the town used to do like waste management, waste water, were all local town services, and the cost of those would have gone up exponentially,” he said.  

 



“Overall, the regionalization of Ontario has been a success.,” Somerville added. “Ontario is the only jurisdiction that has it where the regional  and local governments take care of items like social housing and health. Even if you look at our ambulance service, we have advanced care paramedics active in Acton  24 hour per day. We have a twin arena and a practice pad. You wouldn't otherwise see that in a town this size.”

 


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