Statements by Chair Redman

January 18, 2024
Statement to the Standing Committee on Heritage, Infrastructure and Cultural Policy from Chair Karen Redman

Good afternoon and welcome to Waterloo Region. My name is Karen Redman, and I am Chair of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

I am so proud to represent this region.

As Regional Chair, I have the distinct honour of being the only elected official who represents every single person who lives in the Region - who knocks on doors across all seven area municipalities.

We are home to three world-class post-secondary institutions/ nation-leading tech and advanced manufacturing/ and a growing international airport with the third largest aerospace ecosystem in Ontario.

Right now, 650,000 people call the Region of Waterloo home, and we are quickly growing to one million.

That is not to say we don’t have challenges. With growth comes pressure.

Residents tell me the same thing they likely tell you – that their focus is less on governance, and more on everyday issues like the cost of living and housing.

I want to commend the government’s goal of accelerated housing development. This is a goal that we at the Region of Waterloo share. I believe there are ways the Region can accelerate development even further.

The Region delivers housing-enabling infrastructure, resulting in 1.8 billion dollars in construction activity in recent years. If you are a home builder with a new development, it is the Region that provides the water and wastewater treatment capacity and regional road capacity for new residents. Whether rural, suburban or urban, we have reliably delivered this infrastructure for decades.

But that smart planning needs to continue when residents move in. After all, we are building homes, not just houses. This includes transit, reliable roads, policing, paramedics, waste management, and of course drinking water. It is regional delivery of these essential services that ensures long-term affordability and safety.

When I look at examples of stalled local housing, it requires greater leadership from the region, not a diminished role.

Take for instance a development being built on the border of two of Waterloo Region’s municipalities. Approved years ago, this development is stalled because of a border fight between the two municipalities over cross-border servicing. To be clear, this is holding up hundreds of new homes, directly beside an existing subdivision, with regional water and road servicing ready and waiting.

A similar issue can be found between two other local municipalities, with the delay of significant residential and employment development. In this instance, territorialism over wastewater capacity and which municipality benefits from the new growth has held up critical progress in the middle of a housing crisis.

In our rapidly growing region, a significant amount of growth is slated for areas on the borders of our seven municipalities. I fear that in the absence of a regional planning role, inaction and a culture of delay will win out over the need to build more housing.

Regional planning will be fundamental to how this community will grow.

Let me use public transit as an example.

The Region has played a critical role in aligning delivery, which has spurred incredible investment and new home construction. The Region assumed ownership of individual transit systems in 2000. This resulted in the reduction of duplication and bureaucracy. It streamlined planning and created a connected community.

The regionalization of transit has allowed for the creation of Major Transit Station Areas – or MSTAs. These are critical in securing housing at the rate and density required to meet the government’s housing goals.

The first phase of LRT alone resulted in nearly 5-billion dollars worth of development along the line. The Region is working to complete the LRT with phase 2, which will create more opportunities for investment. In fact, the majority of residential building activity is occurring within the Region’s existing built-up areas, primarily along MTSAs.

Achieving these same outcomes in the absence of regional planning is unfathomable.

This shows what we can do when we take a Regional approach to a core service, and we believe we can do more to unlock housing development.

We are interconnected. Commuter data shows that less than 50 per-cent of commuters stay within their municipality of residence.

Singular oversight of roads would streamline future growth and the creation of a true regional transportation network that would allow for accelerated housing development.

Affordability depends on efficient service delivery in every corner of our Region. That is not happening right now.

While the Region of Waterloo is in charge of water protection, supply, and treatment, we operate in a two-tier system where individual municipalities oversee the distribution of water and collection of wastewater.

In simple terms, we provide the water, but five of our seven municipalities each build and operate their own individual pipe networks. That means developers have to deal with each municipality through individual permitting and servicing processes every time they try to build. While cities and townships develop their water distribution systems, they do not necessarily design them in a way that supports the projected or potential growth of the Region as a whole.

The Region has been actively working to build for growth, creating capacity for the future. Taking a Region-wide approach to the water and wastewater network would allow for efficient and effective delivery and remove red tape. The entire process would be streamlined: more accountable, more transparent, cost less, and present more certainty when bringing new housing online.

The cost of duplication is passed on to residents in the form of higher home prices and higher taxes. Doing the same job twice is costly.

Growth is also costly, and we must be mindful of the way we grow. Residents need services they can rely on and afford.

The demand for emergency services will increase. In our unique Region, traditional borders are blurred. As the provider of police and paramedics, the further consolidation of emergency services through the uploading of Fire, would benefit public safety and allow for a cohesive response. Seven Fire Chiefs is six too many and current agreements will only get us so far.

In closing, the Region is the best partner to ensure more housing is built faster, and to ensure our services can support the growth and development of our community.

I strongly believe there is not a one size fits all approach in Ontario when it comes to two-tier governance.

Waterloo Region is unique – and we can be better. Allowing for the uploading of roads, water and wastewater and fire services will allow for better value for money, service delivery and help us achieve our shared goals of building more homes and securing economic prosperity.

We must ensure that through this review the people who are impacted by this decision are top of mind.

Clean water. Reliable transit and roads. And, most importantly, homes for all.

Thank you, and I look forward to answering any questions you might have. 

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