If local MPPs won’t come to Lambton County council to answer a mountain of concerns about what provincial funding cuts and changes will do to public health, ambulances and other services, county councillors decided they’ll go to Queen’s Park and talk to their provincial government representatives there.
Councillors voted during committee meetings Wednesday to seek a meeting in Toronto with Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey and Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton after the government members didn’t take up the county’s invitation for a local meeting.
“I don’t find that acceptable,” said Sarnia Coun. Mike Stark.
He said county officials should go to the MPPs for information about the changes if they won’t come to council.
“This is getting to the point where they can just kick the can down the road and wait us out,” Stark said. “I’m not prepared to wait.”
Lambton has 263 employees working in its public health and ambulance departments the province has said will be folded in regional mega-agencies. The county, which includes Sarnia, shares the $27.7-million cost of those two local services with the province.
This week, the province said Lambton public health will move from the county to a regional public health office that includes Middlesex-London, Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex and a public health agency serving Elgin and Oxford counties.
Provincewide, the Tory government is moving to merge 35 public health agencies into 10 regional entities. It has a similar plan for ambulances.
With the province continuing to cut spending, Lambton officials are also waiting to learn more about the impact of changes coming to daycare, Ontario Works and other services municipalities deliver.
“This is like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” Stark said.
As well as seeking a meeting with the area’s government MPPs about public health and ambulances, county councillors voted to establish a committee of councillors and senior staff to ensure the province hears about the impact its decisions have on local municipal services.
Those provincial cuts are expected to begin impacting the county’s budget immediately.
Because of that, Lambton’s finance division is recommending using money in a county reserve to absorb the impact of provincial cuts this year, and then focus on preparing for the even greater financial impacts expected in 2020.
John Innes, the county’s finance general manager, said it’s still unclear what the total impact of provincial changes announced so far will be on Lambton’s budget.
“We have far more questions than answers, at this point,” he said.
Sarnia Coun. Brian White said the “radio silence” from the province is frustrating.
“It’s up to us now to get in their face” and push the provincial government to acknowledge the impact its having on municipalities, “and justify it,” he said.