Peel Region concerned about staff retention as looming breakup creates anxiety
The PC government’s decision to dismantle the Region of Peel over the next two years has left the upper-tier municipality with the immense task of attempting to continue providing critical services and managing complex projects as the organization is pulled apart at the seams and divided between Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon as they become independent cities.
A report going before council Thursday admits the challenge of the dissolution process that lies ahead has created a significant amount of anxiety throughout the organization. The admission is a stark contrast from the Region’s outward messaging in the early days following the dissolution announcement which attempted to maintain an appearance of business as usual.
The Hazel McCallion Act—introduced by Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark—past third reading this week, making it all but certain it will receive Royal Assent. It means Peel’s three municipalities will become independent by the beginning of 2025. It has left many of the thousands of staff members at the Region of Peel uncertain about what the future will hold. The staff report entitled “Managing Through the Transition,” recognizes the uncertainty the move has created, which staff say will be “significant” and “complex.” It notes that holding onto staff through the transition process needs to be a top priority as the Region comes to grips with its own demise during an unprecedented time in its history.
“Navigating this change and transition is a significant task,” the report states. “Everyone agrees that maintaining services is critical and that ensuring the wellbeing of staff who deliver and support the delivery of those services is of utmost importance. Retention of knowledgeable, trained staff will be in every institution’s best interests to ensure any timely transition will carry with it, not just well functioning programs, and assets, but trained, professional staff that the community recognizes and values.”
With so many staff now faced with job insecurity, retaining these knowledgeable employees could be a challenge as some begin to look elsewhere for more stable employment. With complex files such as affordable housing and public health and priority projects like the work to establish safe consumption sites in Peel or implementing the Region’s climate strategy, staff departures could impact the delivery of these efforts and lead to service delays.
Since the PC government announced the historic decision to break up the Region, Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga have raised a number of questions and concerns regarding how the transition board will guide the process, including how the finances involved in splitting up Peel will be managed; what a timeline for the transition will look like and what will happen to the more than 5,000 full-time staff employed by the Region of Peel.
The PC government has promised the process will be fair for all three municipalities and “prioritize the preservation of frontline services and workers, respect for taxpayers and government efficiency” ensuring a “seamless and effective” transformation from regional to single-tier governments.
A transition board consisting of five people is expected to be appointed by the Province by the end of July to facilitate the restructuring.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark has previously asserted a transition board will help the Region create a smooth transition as the Province works to dissolve the two-tier system by 2025.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
A spokesperson from the Ministry previously told The Pointer the Province will “bring together a group of people with deep expertise and credibility in municipal operations, finance, service delivery, housing, (and) labour relations.” The spokesperson said the process to appoint members for the transition board would only begin once the legislation is passed, noting the appointments would be expedited to bring them online as quickly as possible following Royal Assent.
According to the staff report, the transition board will be responsible for providing recommendations with respect to “winding down” the Region’s financial operations; transferring regional assets; assigning liabilities, debt and other financial obligations of the Region; addressing employment matters, such as pension and benefit obligations; and the allocation, governance, use and control of services provided by the Region, including whether joint municipal service boards or other shared servicing arrangements should be established. It will make recommendations on the employment of staff, the disbursement of programs and departments to the lower-tier municipalities, and which services will continue to be shared among the three municipalities.
Recommendations from the transition board are expected to be submitted to the Ministry in the summer/fall of 2024, the report notes. Legislation to address restructuring matters is expected in the fall of 2024 when the Minister will make the final decision.
While Regional staff actively assess the associated impacts of the legislation, a number of risks are being managed in what staff are calling the “uncertain phase.” These risks include ensuring the continuity of all essential services; supporting the psychological health and wellbeing of over 6,500 regional staff; collective bargaining for union contracts currently open for negotiations; managing staff retention to ensure service continuity; managing contracts with community partners and vendors, including those that, by necessity, will extend beyond January 1, 2025.
To assist staff during the process, the Region is increasing mental health benefits in 2023. Part of mitigating these risks, the report notes, will be supporting the psychological health and wellbeing of staff as the announcement of dissolution has “understandably triggered significant anxiety and stress”.
The Region will be increasing employee psychological health benefits to $2,500 in 2023 for eligible full-time employees whose current entitlements are not at this level. According to the report, the psychological health benefits include services from psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists, clinical counsellors and family therapists, and “will provide enhanced supports to staff during this difficult time.” The increase is estimated to cost the Region approximately $460,000 for 2023, subject to actual use, and will be funded through the rate stabilization reserve.
With uncertainty around what will happen to regional staff looming, Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish introduced a motion last week requesting the Province “establish the transition board with all urgency and establish a work plan that makes obvious decisions quickly.”
The motion went on to state that the emerging separation of the three municipalities has “created serious uncertainty for the Region of Peel employees in difficult economic times.” The Region of Peel currently employs 5,063 full time staff, excluding Police Services.
“Many of the employees impacted by the Hazel McCallion Act are residents of Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga and their future is a huge concern for the three municipalities,” the motion states. “‘The unknown’ is incredibly stressful for current staff employed by the Region of Peel as well as their families as they make every day decisions such as the renewal of mortgages, children going to university and other financially dependent life decisions.”
The main point of Parrish's motion is to ensure exhisting regional employees be given every opportunity to hold onto their job when all staff functions are divided among the three municipalities.
The historic separation creates a series of complex questions about infrastructure and services currently provided by the Region of Peel, which must now be divided and assumed or shared by the soon-to-be independent municipalities. The Region currently oversees several essential services such as housing and shelter, childcare services, social assistance, waste collection, water and wastewater treatment, arterial roads, and public health programs including long-term care services. It also oversees the funding for public services like Peel Paramedics, Peel Regional Police, Ontario Provincial Police (in Caledon) and the conservation authorities. It remains unclear who will take custody of each of these services once the Region dissolves. When announcing the legislation in May, Minister Steven Clark said it is expected negotiations would “take the next two or three years to untangle the shared costs among the municipalities.”
The Region of Peel is attempting to provide council with a clear idea of how the ongoing dissolution process could change everyday service delivery. Staff will now be including a new section in all council reports to identify impacts associated with the Hazel McCallion Act (Bill 112) and highlight any significant risks. Staff will actively be assessing “the legal, service, and contractual implications” of the legislation and are “proactively addressing” the risks outlined in Thursday’s report, which will continue to be detailed for council when necessary.
The report notes the financial impacts are unknown but “Staff will continue to deliver services as approved through the 2023 Budget and through previous approved Council reports and continue to review future investments and work plans through the lens of Bill 112.”
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