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Issue:
January 2019 - Ken Seiling

Seiling seeking next Stage

Former Regional Chair looking for opportunities

by Paul Knowles

It’s somewhat ironic that perhaps the most lasting tribute to retired Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling is that they have named a museum after him. But from another perspective, it’s entirely appropriate.

Sure, renaming The Waterloo Regional Museum as “The Ken Seiling Waterloo Regional Museum” may conjure up a few jokes about antiques and artifacts – after all, Seiling’s record of serving as Regional Chair for 33 years is undoubtedly historic.

But Seiling’s early career included a successful stint as director of the Wellington County Museum. He admits to being an advocate for all things historic over the years. History is in his blood – so what more fitting honour could the Region have found than branding the museum in his name.

Seiling says, “My first reaction was, ‘That’s not my style’. But I was also kind of flattered.”

Exchange magazine interviewed Seiling earlier in 2018, and published an article at that time. But the outgoing chair had promised a second interview in the days immediately before his final term ended. Our first question concerned his plans for the future. “I have no plans,” he said. “I’ve had several inquiries about things.”

Seiling has a unique record when it comes to being elected – he was first named Regional Chair by a vote of his colleagues on council; when the position was put to public election, he won every time he ran.

He admits that the decision to step down was not easy. Now, “I’m going through a grieving process.” That process may be complicated by the fact that his first job upon leaving the chair is to go through 90 boxes of his official and personal papers.

Seiling isn’t going completely quietly. When he talked to Exchange, he freely offered his opinion on a number of issues. One he would not discuss – because nothing had been officially stated by the province– is the future of two-tiered regional government.

He did say that “It’s time the Region had one body running all three hospitals;” the current situation sees three separate boards and administrations operating Grand River, St. Mary’s, and Cambridge Memorial.

Seiling believes that having three independent, relatively small hospitals has hurt the Region’s chances of having optimum health care facilities. “We have lost the opportunity to have a centralized hospital,” he said, “and the fragmented hospital system doesn’t serve us well. It doesn’t put us in a position to deal with Queen’s Park… We have three remodeled old hospitals.”

“The fragmented hospital system doesn’t serve us well. It doesn’t put us in a position to deal with Queen’s Park… We have three remodeled old hospitals.”

Seiling says, “The province would have to step in” to unify the system. That would mean “better access to service within a unified structure… And better rationalization of services. There would not be three competing hospitals.”

The change of government at Queen’s Park had a clear impact on provincial-municipal relations, as the provincial government acted immediately to slash the size of Toronto city council, and initiate changes in several other municipalities just prior to the election last fall. Seiling says, “Changes in government are always challenging. But you find new ways to deal with them.”

Another issue on everyone’s mind is the perpetually delayed launch of the ION Light Rail Transit system. Seiling finds it ironic that the failure to meet schedule, in his view, is not the fault of the Region. “People always say government can’t do anything, only the private sector can. But who let us down? The private sector. We put our faith in a Canadian company that didn’t perform. To say I am disappointed is an understatement.”

Seiling says that, if asked, he will “give my perspective on things” to his successor, Regional Chair Karen Redman. He notes that, “I’ve always maintained that the Region’s been pretty stable for years, and has done good things, because of the continuity of elected officials.” Seiling adds, “That’s not to say you can never change. But it’s helpful to understand why things have happened the way they have.”

And he identifies a number of areas that need attention from the Region, or at the inter-governmental level.

First, he says, is the “opioid issue. There’s a role for local municipalities in all of that. Particularly in Cambridge where there is a certain group who don’t want anything in their neighbourhood, which is where the problem is.”

Then, keeping his focus on Cambridge, he says the Region “Needs to put the routing for the second phase of the LRT in place.”

And he also highlights “the whole question of affordable and supportive housing…. Council should be concerned about that.”

He says he has faith in the new council, and the new chair. “I made the decision not to run when I knew there were competent people ready to run. I was confident that if Karen won, she could do the job.”

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