Revisions to the legislation that brought the new Norfolk and Haldimand counties into being 20 years ago are a possible outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic alert.
COVID-19 has focused attention on the importance of the counties’ board of health during a public health emergency. In doing so, the pandemic has highlighted the glaring absence of Haldimand representation on the board.
“I didn’t create this structure,” Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of Norfolk and Haldimand’s board of health, told the board when they came together last week in a virtual meeting.
“It’s been in place for 20 years. Do I agree with this structure? No, I don’t.”
Chopp said the pandemic underscores the need for a more inclusive model. Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt agrees. He sat in on his second board of health meeting as a non-voting member this week.
Commenting at the May 19 meeting, Hewitt noted that Norfolk and Haldimand have incurred about $1.4 million in extraordinary costs since the pandemic was declared in March.
The fact Haldimand is responsible for 40 per cent of this but has no vote or formal say is contrary to the “fiduciary” responsibility he and his council colleagues have to their constituents, he said.
“That, for us, is an issue going forward,” said Hewitt, adding Haldimand staff must come up with a plan to pay for the municipality’s share.
The designation of Norfolk as “the consolidated service manager” in the area of health and social services emerged from the provincial review of Haldimand-Norfolk Region in 2000. That review ended with the restructuring of the region into two, standalone municipalities.
Milt Farrow, special adviser to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, recommended that Norfolk manage this responsibility on the basis of its larger population – 63,000 versus 42,000 in Haldimand.
Norfolk’s duties include decision-making as the counties’ joint board of health. Farrow concluded it was more efficient for Norfolk to take on this responsibility, given its larger representation would prevail in any event when matters came to a vote.
Haldimand’s responsibility for the past 20 years has been coming up with the cash to pay for its 40 percent share of costs. Haldimand is represented on the Norfolk and Haldimand health and social services advisory committee.
This governance model was never an issue till now because the local board of health usually acts as a rubber stamp for Haldimand-Norfolk Health and Social Services. Health and social services, in turn, is responsible for the delivery of provincially mandated programs that derive the majority of their funding from the provincial treasury.
Because it relies on Queen’s Park for the lion’s share of its funding, the local health and social services division is subject to a great deal of oversight from the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and the Ministry of Community and Social Services among others.
The province’s unique formula in Norfolk and Haldimand has caused headaches in recent weeks for Mayor Chopp. Members of the public don’t understand the board of health governance model and often wonder why she has extraordinary powers in the area of public health in a municipality she doesn’t represent.
Norfolk clerk Andy Grozelle said changing the local governance model would require changing the legislation at Queen’s Park that brought the new Norfolk and the new Haldimand into being.