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Brantford Council opposes merger of health units

City of BrantfordBrantford Council opposes merger of health units

City of Brantford Council has supported a resolution regarding the proposed amalgamation of the Brant County Health Unit (BCHU) and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) during their Committee of the Whole, planning and administration meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2024.

During the meeting, Councillor Dan McCreary moved the resolution to direct City Staff to review the process necessary to integrate the operation of the BCHU into the administrative structure of the City of Brantford, including any legislative changes necessary to bring it into effect.

The move comes after BCHU and HNHU recently announced their intent to merge.

McCreary, who represents the City on the Brant County Board of Health, said that he couldn’t see how the proposed amalgamation would be in the best interest of the City.

“I became very concerned very quickly with respect to the direction that this proposed amalgamation is headed in. I don’t feel that it’s in our best interest,” he said.

McCreary noted that last week, a Toronto lawyer threatened the City with legal action if it proceeded with the resolution.

He said while they were originally told the correspondence was approved by the BCHU Board of Directors as a whole, they received information on Tuesday that it this was not the case.

“It was not approved by BCHU, this was an action from either the Chair or Vice Chair of that organization.”

Citing that there are some issues with respect to the governance of the organization, McCreary said that it would only get worse if they allowed the amalgamation to take place.

“I firmly believe, as do I think a number of our councillors here, that the future for public health in the City of Brantford to serve our citizens properly, belongs in this building as a function of municipal government. In taking into account the fact that we have a partner in the County of Brant, the model that we develop may look an awful lot like our Social Services Committee in the fullness of time,” he said.  “I would urge everybody here today to support this and a careful reading tells you that it’s simply giving our Staff direction to come back and tell us how we would do this [integrate BCHU into the City] at a later date.”

Mayor Kevin Davis said that not only will the resolution allow City Staff to look into the advantages and disadvantages of embedding the BCHU into the administrative structure of Brantford, but that it would also send the message that council is opposed to the merger.

“I quite agree that a merger will dilute the control and the absolute focus of our health unit where right now, we have a fine balance between urban health issues and rural health issues,” he said. “…If we move into this larger association with Haldimand-Norfolk, there’ll be a greater emphasis on rural issues, because they are, in nature, more rural than they are urban. My understanding of the proposal is that although we’ll be paying half of the local bill, we’ll only have 25 per cent of the representation that’s passed on the board and it dilutes even further, the ability to properly govern the organization to make sure that there is a proper emphasis on issues that are centric to Brantford.”

Davis said that while he sees the advantage of amalgamation for everybody else involved, he has yet to hear anything that convinces him that the merger is in Brantford’s best interest. He noted that if the City of Brantford was allowed to see the business case and see how, or if, it would interest the City, he could possibly change his mind about the merger.

“It’s certainly in the interest of the province; it makes it easier for them to control health units if there are fewer health units,” he said. “Undoubtedly, it would have a benefit to Haldimand-Norfolk because it would give them access to a health unit with a much greater scale than what they have now. So, I see the advantage for everyone except us here in the City of Brantford. …Now, I could change my mind about a merger if someone would explain to us what the business case is to justify the merger on the basis of the interest for the City of Brantford.”

Councillor Rose Sicoli said that she agreed that with the various concerns about the amalgamation, and that she would in fact be supporting McCreary’s resolution to have Staff look into the pros and cons of embedding BCHU into the City.

“As far as the merger goes, I fail to see how this will really benefit the residents of the City of Brantford. I do think that we’re at this very pivotal point where we have an obligation to do due diligence,” she said. “It would be wise for us to explore what this would look like and what the pros and cons would be to possibly embed the BCHU into the City of Brantford as many other municipalities have so that we can ensure things like proper governance and transparency. I think we owe it to the residents of Brantford to see what that looks like and what the possibilities are so I will be supporting this tonight.”

On the other hand, Councillor Richard Carpenter said that he had concerns with the resolution officially stating that the Council is opposed to the amalgamation.

“The resolution says that the City is not in favor of an amalgamation. Well, I’m not sure where I sit there because I don’t have the information, but this resolution, if I vote for it, is saying I’m not in favour,” Carpenter said. “I don’t know that for a fact yet, but you’re putting me in the position of having to say that and I won’t do that without the information. I hear comments about governance, about chairs and about how we can’t be chair, and that sounds to me more like a control issue and that we want to control the health board. Well, maybe we do and maybe that is the direction, but I have concerns about it.”

He said that while the resolution is well-meaning, he’s concerned about the overall process.

“If we were to embed it, we should be thinking about what we’re going to do with the County and we should have had a discussion with the County about this but that hasn’t happened either,” said Carpenter. “To me, I think this looks more like picking a fight, as opposed to trying to find a solution and that’s what concerns me about this process. I understand that it’s well-meaning and well-intended, that we really want to try and protect the health unit, keep our services local and have a say in those services, I get that. But this process is concerning for me.”

The resolution was later carried on a vote of 9-1, noting that Carpenter voted against it and that Councillor John Sless was not present for the meeting. Final approval for the resolution will go to Council at a later date.

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