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City Council pushes for information on health unit merger

Brant County Health UnitCity Council pushes for information on health unit merger

City of Brantford Council said until they receive more information, they won’t be taking a position on the proposed merger of the Brant County Health Unit (BCHU) and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) during their Council meeting on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

During their Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, Councillor Dan McCreary moved a 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 came after BCHU and HNHU recently announced their intent to merge.

During the meeting, an amendment was made to the resolution to include that the City of Brantford was opposed to the merger, and Council ultimately decided it would need to see information from BCHU before taking any type of position.

This week, Mayor Kevin Davis brought forward an amendment to split the May 14 resolution and vote on the matters of integration and amalgamation separately.

His amendment insists that the proposed merge should not proceed without the informed consent of the City, that the City’s decision on the matter will be deferred until Council receive answers to the information it has requested, and that should the merge proceed without the City’s informed consent, the Council will consider whether to withdraw from the merged health unit and whether to suspend its financial contribution to the merged unit.

He said the amendment comes after the health unit recently sent Council a “high-level overview” of what it hopes to accomplish by merging.

Despite the overview, Davis said he still has three major concerns. One being that Council still didn’t have answers regarding the City’s representation on a merged health unit committee, the second being what will happen to BCHU assets like the health unit building on Terrace Hill and the parking lot, and three, what the merger will cost the City in the future.

“Since we’re likely going to be paying, based on population, something close to one half of what we call ‘the local cost’ for the public health unit, I think it’s critically important that we have representation on the proposed merged board that’s proportional to what we’re paying,” said Davis. “If what we have is one representative and Haldimand has one representative, Norfolk has one representative and the County of Brant has one, then that is not going to provide us with effective representation representing the amount that we’ll be contributing to this potential merged unit. Without the proper number of board members on the merged board, it would in effect, be taxation without representation.”

He said his biggest concern of the three issues is the budget and what it will cost the City as the Haldimand-Norfolk area is significantly larger than Brantford.

“The health unit area for Haldimand-Norfolk is much, much larger than ours and the population is spread out, making it more difficult to serve and almost certainly more expensive,” Davis said. “So, what are the projected budgets for this organization? My concern is that it will likely lead to an increased bureaucracy; It’ll likely lead to services more expensive in a larger area and so thus, there is a risk that we’ll be paying much more for a service that’s less focused on Brantford and more focused on areas outside of Brant.”

Davis said until they have answers to their questions, especially regarding the costs, the amendment makes it clear that they won’t be deciding to support or not support the merger until they get the information.

“We just don’t have that answer and until we have that answer, I don’t think it’s appropriate that we either not support or support the merger, …and that is the intent of the amendment, that we’re not deciding at this stage,” he said. “We want some indication that as an important stakeholder partner that pays 20 to 25 per cent of the bills there, that our consent will be sought and obtained before the merger is completed and finished. I think that’s appropriate. That’s us exercising due diligence on behalf of the taxpayer and the residents of the City of Brantford.”

McCreary also noted that he sent around 13 or so questions (including the Mayor’s three main concerns) to BCHU on May 27th, 2024, and that the answers have yet to be announced in a public manner.

“I think this is troublesome, I think more troublesome than anything else is the veil of secrecy that surrounds this entire episode,” he said. “You’ve heard the questions that I posed, and some of the answers are readily available, but that’s not being disclosed by the Chair, Vice Chair and CEO [of BCHU] at all.”

The vote on the amendment was then carried on a vote of 10-1, noting that Councillor Richard Carpenter voted against it.

In regards to the main 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 resolution was carried on a vote of 10-1 with Carpenter voting against it.

“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 during the May 14 Committee of the Whole meeting. “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.”

Both copies of the two separate resolutions will now be forwarded to Will Bouma, MPP for Brantford Brant, Bobbi Ann Brady, MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk, Amy Martin, Mayor for Norfolk County, the Honourable Sylvia Jones, Minister of Health, and Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario.

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