Regional mayors gather to discuss shared challenges, potential collaboration

The Regional Mayors Council includes (clockwise from top left) Mayor Jim Hegadorn (Loyalist Township) Mayor Terry Richardson (Town of Greater Napanee), Mayor Ron Vandewal (South Frontenac Township and Frontenac County Warden), Mayor Bryan Paterson (City of Kingston), Mayor John Beddows (Town of Gananoque), and Mayor Corinna Smith-Gatcke (Township of Leeds and the Thosand Islands).

In the pandemic era, many of us have had to get used to working alone. But working in isolation is often unhelpful when we face daunting challenges.

It is in that spirit that on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2023, the mayors of Kingston, Napanee, Loyalist Township, South Frontenac, Gananoque, and the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands met in Kingston to form a new ‘Regional Mayors Council’ to discuss issues of mutual significance and areas of collaboration.

Mayor Bryan Paterson of the City of Kingston recalled, “About a year ago… we were in [a Kingston City Council meeting], and we were talking about… the need for more housing, options for where we could put more housing — and I just remember realizing that we weren’t seeing the whole picture.” 

Paterson explained, “There are so many people that live outside of the city that commute into work, or come to [attend] school here, or whatever else… and it just suddenly hit me that in order to understand the housing issue, we really need to understand what’s going on in the housing market in Gananoque and other communities around us. So that was the first time thinking [how] it would be great to have a table where all the mayors from municipalities in this region come together and talk about things, share information and ideas, and talk about what’s going on.”

So, Paterson invited the surrounding municipal leaders to join him in Kingston this week. As eastern Ontario continues to grow, the mayors have agreed to come together around the same table to share ideas and information on issues of mutual significance; explore ways to collaborate on new housing solutions, transportation, and development ideas; and discuss new ways to accommodate growth in eastern Ontario — taking into consideration the provincial housing targets.

The main idea is to ensure future growth benefits everyone across the region. “We know our communities continue to be places companies and people are drawn to; we have the resources, the talent, and the quality of life,” said Paterson. “As close neighbours, we have a unique opportunity to take a more regional approach to shared priorities like housing, transportation, and future development.”

Greater Napanee Mayor Terry Richardson said he thought getting together with regional mayors was “a good idea. I think it’s something that we probably should have done some time ago. It just provides an opportunity for… local municipalities to discuss what problems we are having, what things are broken, and what things can be fixed.”

“In the conversations [on Tuesday],” Richardson continued, “you realize that a lot of our municipalities have had a lot of the same wins [and] losses, right? So, it was very interesting. I think it is something that we’re going to follow up on, and have some regular meetings. If we can help each other out, then the area wins, which is I think the best way to look at it: if the area wins, each one of us individually wins.”

Corinna Smith-Gatcke, Mayor of the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands, said, “We’re so close in proximity in many cases… We don’t want to lose any potential developers coming to the area because we may not have the right lands, or something else. The neighboring municipality could have what people are looking for. So, it’s more of a collaborative approach.” 

Richardson agreed, explaining, “We’ve got a lot of industrial lands here [in Napanee] that we can market and sell. Some of the other municipalities are running out of that. So if somebody, just for argument’s sake, goes into Kingston and says, ‘Listen, I’ve got this industry I want to start up here,’ and The City of Kingston says, ‘Well, we haven’t got the room, but Napanee does, just 20 minutes down the road,’ [then] everybody wins.”

Richardson is a retired police officer who worked for 30 years with Peel Regional Police and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) before his retirement in 2016, and he draws on that experience when explaining how he would like to see the Regional Mayors Council work together: “Back in my policing… and drug enforcement days, we were able to get to a much higher level of drug dealer working in joint forces operations… because we shared money, we shared resources, we shared thoughts… We were able to be successful by sharing our resources… When it worked, It was really successful… I say, if we win, Kingston wins; if Gananoque wins, Napanee wins… We win as a group as opposed to trying to compete against each other individually.”

Besides industry recruitment and housing, other topics of interest included physician recruitment and the possibility of a regional transit system.

“It’s another one of those cases where basically a conversation and collaboration just can help all of us do our job easier, quicker, and more efficiently,” observed Jim Hegadorn, Mayor of Loyalist Township, who said he has been advocating for more collaboration frequently in the past.

“We have to remember that when a doctor comes into a certain area, [that doctor] services a whole region, so we need to be looking at it that way, as well,” he pointed out. “If one [municipality] succeeds, the region succeeds. So, the region really needs to be looking at it together.”

As to the subject of a regional transit system, Hegadorn said the lack of public transit “is a growing issue in our area… like it [is] everywhere,” and he thinks there is an opportunity for “more of a regional transit system. We’ve got employers in our township that are actively looking for staff, and there are workers that are available, but [if] they can’t get to the plant, they can’t get to the job… because maybe they don’t have a car.”

However, Hegadorn observed, if there was regional transit and a couple, for example, were both employed yet had only one car, “one could take the car to one area and the other one could catch the bus and go to work. That way they can be quite happy living where they want to live.”

All of the mayors who were reached for comment said they appreciated meeting the other mayors and seeing the various personalities around the table. While some of them had met previously, many had not or had only met one or two of their counterparts.

Smith-Gatcke said she and her staff were “very pleased to be invited to have the conversation” and noted, “we’re certainly not trying to change or usurp any sort of efforts made by the EOWC  (Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus) or the Eastern Ontario Mayors Caucus (EOMC). Both of those groups exist to lobby the provincial government about issues pertaining to municipalities that are more policy-driven. Those two groups are more about advocation on certain specific issues.” she continued.

“But,” she went on, “this group is more about identifying things that we might be able to work together on, which I think is a proactive approach. It’s nice to have a forum to have an open conversation that isn’t a formal meeting, as well. I’m glad Mayor Paterson instigated it, and hopefully we’ll all have more opportunities to collaborate.”

The mayors have asked their respective staff to research issues where collaboration could be beneficial. Going forward, they plan to meet on an as-needed basis, sharing the hosting duties in the various municipalities.

One thought on “Regional mayors gather to discuss shared challenges, potential collaboration

  • Regional transportation. It will improve our efficiency for work access as well as recreation. Living in Europe taught me not to be dependent on a vehicle to get everywhere. First thing I had to adjust to coming back to Ontario. Had to rely heavily on a vehicle again.

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