Region working to maintain critical social services amid historic upheaval triggered by looming dissolution
The PC government’s decision to dismantle the Region of Peel over the next two years following the passage of Bill 112, the Hazel McCallion Act in June, has pushed the upper-tier municipality into what staff have labelled an “uncertain phase”. It has left them to tackle the daunting task of providing critical services and managing complex projects as Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon are pulled apart, impacting the 1.5 million residents that call these municipalities home.
The uncertainty has led senior regional staff to figure out the best way to keep critical employees at a time when their job security has dissolved following the PC government’s legislation.
In an email to The Pointer, a spokesperson with the Region noted the organization currently has 201 staff vacancies. They could not confirm how those numbers compared to the same time last year. They added the Region “is working to support our employees through this time of incredible uncertainty.”
The spokesperson noted that any potential disruption or change to service will be reported to council.
“As our employees make decisions to support their well-being, vacancies have been impacted by the announcement of Bill 112. However, it’s important to note that vacancies and recruitment fluctuate throughout the year. We remain committed to ensuring there is no interruption to service delivery. We will provide regular updates to Council as needed,” the spokesperson said.
Despite the undeniably massive scale of change triggered by Bill 112, senior leadership and staff at the Region have maintained a “business as usual” approach with Regional Chair Nando Iannicca previously stating, “There will be no service interruptions for our community. We will continue to serve the people in Peel as this transition happens.”
But maintaining the status quo will not be easy and it’s inevitable that as the Province works to dissolve the upper-tier municipality and billions in capital assets and public works that will need to be reallocated, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the laundry list of services provided to residents. For example,
As part of Peel Region Public Health, programs include the harm reduction efforts which provide training, education, and van outreach services distributing safer drug use materials for injection and inhalation practices, along with providing Naloxone kits to prevent and respond to overdoses. This also includes the Peel Opioid Strategy which focuses on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and enforcement. In July 2022, regional council approved funding for an interim supervised consumption site where people can use their own drugs in a safe environment under the supervision of medically trained staff. A location in Brampton was selected in July 2023. How the ongoing dissolution will impact this project remains unknown.
The Region also helps to oversee vaccine management across Peel, distributing roughly 780,000 vaccines to clinics each year. It supplies immunizations and screens 250,000 students in Peel each year as part of the preventable diseases school program which ensures they are up-to-date on mandatory childhood vaccinations.
It remains unclear what will happen to the current public health structure—will it remain and provide services to Brampton and Mississauga as a standalone entity, or will each of the newly independent municipalities create their own public health units. During any inevitable shift, as decisions around staff, service delivery, management, and funding are ironed out, Peel’s public health unit must somehow manage to maintain all these services.
Similar questions exist within Peel’s housing department.
According to the Peel Living 2022 Annual Report, the not-for-profit housing provider oversees 6,882 housing units for 17,784 low- and moderate-income earners within the region. As the largest community housing provider in Peel, representing half of the affordable units available, the organization also manages five region-owned buildings, two transitional housing properties, four shelters for adults and one youth shelter.
On top of that, the Region oversees implementation of the Housing Master Plan, a long-term capital infrastructure plan to guide how Peel will create more affordable housing, which if fully funded and implemented would add more than 5,650 new affordable rental units, including 226 supportive and 60 emergency shelter beds to the housing stock in Peel by 2034. In 2019, regional council allocated $1 billion of funding in principle to support the development of an initial 2,240 units to be built by 2028. It’s unclear now how these units will be funded as resources are divided up among the municipalities.
The departmental breakup is not the only uncertainty in Peel’s current situation, as questions continue to linger about how the transition board will guide the process, including how the finances involved in splitting up Peel will be managed; what a detailed 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, which have been left in a state of uncertainty about the future of their employment.
A June report from regional staff acknowledged the uncertainty among staff created by the PC government’s decision to dissolve the Region over the next two years.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
In June, staff admitted the challenge of the dissolution process that lies ahead has created significant anxiety throughout the organization — a confession that contrasted the Region’s messaging at the outset of the dissolution announcement which strived to promote the status quo. The staff report, entitled “Managing the Transition,” acknowledged the uncertainty stirred by the Province’s decision, stating it will be “significant” and “complex.” Holding onto staff through the transition process needs to be a top priority for the Region as it manages the intricacies of liquifying half a century of assets, the report noted.
“Peel is an anchor institution in the community. Peel residents, businesses and the community rely on the seamless delivery of high-quality, efficient services,” the Regional spokesperson explained. “Everyone agrees that maintaining services is critical and that ensuring the well-being of staff who deliver and support the delivery of those services is of utmost importance.”
To address the uncertainty around the future of the Region’s over 5,000 staff it employs, Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish introduced a motion in May requesting the Province “establish a work plan that makes obvious decisions quickly,” stating “the unknown is incredibly stressful for current staff employed by the Region of Peel.” The motion also recognized the looming breakup of the three municipalities has “created serious uncertainty for the Region of Peel employees in difficult economic times.”
The PC government has promised the process will be fair for all three municipalities and will “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. Letters issued in May by the Region to its vendors, community partners and volunteers assured there will be no service interruptions for the residents or businesses the Region serves. It has not stopped many advocates in the community from expressing their doubts.
The dissolution of the Region of Peel raises complex questions and concerns around how the upper-tier government will be divided up among its three lower-tier municipalities.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
To facilitate the restructuring of the three lower-tier municipalities a transition board consisting of five people “across the public and private sectors” was appointed in early July. In an announcement from the Province, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark assured the individuals that were elected to serve on the transition board “bring an impressive range of experience that will help ensure the dissolution process is carried out with minimal disruption for residents and employees and in a manner that leaves all three municipalities well-positioned for future growth.”
The board will determine the roadmap for Peel’s transition by providing recommendations on a range of restructuring matters related to the dissolution including “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 also 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.
“The advice of the board will help ensure the continuation of high-quality local services without interruption during the transition period and into the future. The board will help ensure financial sustainability throughout the dissolution process and its recommendations will help inform government decisions that may be required to implement the restructuring,” the provincial announcement stated.
According to a June report from the Region, recommendations from the transition board are expected to be submitted to the Ministry in the summer/fall of 2024. Legislation to address restructuring matters is expected in the fall of 2024 when the Minister will make the final decision. The Region’s CAO Gary Kent previously cautioned council that the Board has no obligations to report on any of its activities to any party other than the Minister.
The Peel spokesperson noted the Region is collaborating with the transition board “to ensure the health and wellbeing of our employees and the uninterrupted delivery of our essential services.”
“Peel has developed a number of different programs through our business contingency planning and risk management to closely monitor and react to ensure there is no impact to our services,” the spokesperson explained. “Maintaining services is critical, and ensuring the mental, physical and emotional well-being of staff who deliver and support the delivery of those services is of utmost importance.”
To help guide Peel through the transition, the Region has established 12 principles that the spokesperson said the employees can use to assess how to proceed with previously approved projects and programs and how to prepare the 2024 budget, although the financial impacts of the dissolution are currently unknown. The decisions “will be made in the public interest while having regard for the municipal restructuring, ensuring value for money, high quality efficient services and that other municipalities are not unreasonably impacted.”
The spokesperson confirmed staff plan to provide an update to council on the transition in September.
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